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U.S. Customs to reduce hours at Lancaster, Roseau ports

The Roseau, Minn., port of entry. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo)1 / 2
The Lancaster, Minn., port of entry. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo)2 / 2

LANCASTER, Minn.—Residents of this small northwest Minnesota community say a decision by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to cut operation hours at its nearby international port of entry will be an economic blow for much of the region.

"It will be devastating to the community and all the businesses and campgrounds along U.S. Highway 59," said Charlie Bernstrom, whose family owns the Bernstrom Oil gas station in Lancaster. "It's going to stop a big chunk of people from being able to travel. They want people to go through Pembina (N.D.). If you have to go a half-hour out of the way, you might just find a different place to go. Once you divert people's patterns, they might not come back this way."

Customs officials say the decision to cut hours at both the Lancaster and Roseau, Minn., ports was based on traffic and workload levels. Both port stations were constructed in 2004.

"Port traffic slows down significantly after hours," U.S. Customs spokesman Chris Misson said. "There are times when that workload isn't there, and we have to look at readjusting and realigning our staffing. We've got ports like Pembina, a 24-hour port, a major crossing on Interstate 29 that goes right to Grand Forks. It's much bigger, much more traffic, much more resources needed."

Beginning Jan. 7, the Lancaster port will operate from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., rather than closing at 10 p.m. The Roseau port will operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., rather than closing at midnight. Operation hours will remain unchanged for northbound traffic entering Canada.

Customs officials say travelers wishing to cross into the U.S. after hours will be able to use ports at Pembina, 30 miles west of Lancaster, or Warroad, Minn., about 21 miles east of Roseau.

That may be an additional half-hour drive or less, but Bernstrom says that's too long and too far for communities that rely on Canadian business for their bread and butter. He said campgrounds, gas stations, grocery and liquor stores, golf courses and other businesses will feel a huge hit up and down the U.S. Highway 59 corridor. Casinos as far away as Mahnomen and Thief River Falls also likely will be impacted, he said.

"The Canadians are a big part of the economy in all of northwest Minnesota," he said. "We found the daily personal passenger count online ... and it's pretty astonishing. It makes zero sense why they're picking Lancaster."

Bernstrom cited a report spanning 2015 to 2017 that estimated the daily average number of passengers crossing at Lancaster was about 164. The daily average in Roseau was about 190. That put the passenger counts at No. 10 and No. 8, respectively, among 25 crossings in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Misson could not immediately comment on those numbers because he said he was unfamiliar with the report and did not have it in front of him.

He did counter with his own set of numbers, however. He said traffic at both ports has declined over the past five years. In Lancaster, the number of both passenger and cargo vehicles has decreased by 33 percent since fiscal year 2013. In the same period in Roseau, the number of passenger vehicles and cargo vehicles has decreased by 19 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

He said the impact would be minimal during the hours the ports now will be closed—saying an average of 3.62 vehicles cross per hour during that time period in Lancaster and 1.81 vehicles cross per hour during that time in Roseau.

No matter the numbers, Bernstrom said the people of Lancaster—population 360—are rallying and several plan to voice their concerns at a U.S. Customs town hall meeting set for 7 p.m. Monday in the Lancaster Community Center.

"The place holds roughly 250 people, and we hope to have people standing outside," Bernstrom said.

Another town meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Roseau Civic Center.

Citing safety and national security concerns, Misson said he could not say how many employees work at each of the ports of entry, but he did say no jobs would be cut because of the changes.