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U.S. to keep gate into Canada open at Roseau, Minn.

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

ROSEAU, Minn. -- Deb Derbowka may be Canadian, but she said she and other Piney, Man.-area residents consider Roseau, Minn., a part of their community.

“In the summer, our grandson goes swimming at the Roseau High School pool, to take his Red Cross swimming,” she said. The town also offers Piney residents their closest shopping area, hockey rink and hospital.  

Roseau is about 25 miles southeast of Piney.

“Without that, we would have to travel to Steinbach (Man.), which is an hour away. In an emergency situation, it’s a big difference,” she said, recalling a “serious situation” when she was hospitalized in Roseau during open border hours. “You don’t want to take chances.”

So, Derbowka said she was concerned Tuesday night, when U.S. Border Patrol agents closed the highway into Manitoba at the Roseau port of entry four hours before the Canadian port closed.

At the border crossing north of Roseau, the U.S. entry port closes at 8 p.m., and the adjacent Canadian port at South Junction, Man., stays open until midnight. There are two gates on the U.S. side of the border that must close once both ports end operation. Even after the U.S. decided last summer to close its port earlier, every night its Border Patrol agents have been shutting the gate at midnight for Canada-bound traffic.

Earlier this month, Canadian officials announced they would adopt U.S. hours and begin closing their ports at South Junction at 8 p.m. instead of midnight, Piney at 5 p.m. instead of 10 p.m., and Tolstoi, Man., at 8 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. after Labor Day and at 6 p.m. the rest of the year, the Winnipeg Free Press reported.

Tolstoi is on Highway 59 north of Lancaster, Minn.

The reduced Canadian hours were scheduled to go into effect Monday, but Canada Border Services Agency officials delayed the decision indefinitely to further study the impact of the reduced hours and gather additional public input.

“There’s approximately 10 to 12 locations along the northern border where (Canada was) going to match our hours,” said Mike Freeman, assistant director with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations. “And we were going to match their hours. However, at the last minute, Canadian authorities did not follow through on that. So we went ahead and continued as if they were going to do it, because we have unions that we have to negotiate schedules with.”

The gate was only closed prematurely that one night, Freeman confirmed.

'Limited resources'

"Up until Dec. 7, we’re having Border Patrol help us close the gates,” Freeman said, which is when Congress is supposed to pass its spending bill to avoid a government shutdown. That’s also the unofficial deadline the U.S. has set to negotiate a solution with Canada, Freeman said.

“We have limited resources,” he said. “We’re diverting a lot of staff to the southern border, and right now, this is more of an administrative function that the Border Patrol has graciously been assisting us in doing, that we would like the Canadians to start doing for us if they would like to keep their side of the border open.”

Roseau Mayor Jeff Pelowski participated in a meeting in Piney on Nov. 14, after which Canadian officials decided to keep their port open until midnight for now.

“They had a public meeting up in Piney, and as a result of that meeting, the Canadians decided to postpone their decision until they can gather more data on the economic and social impacts of their decision,” Pelowski said.

After the Border Patrol closed the U.S. gate Tuesday night, following a directive from Freeman’s office, Pelowski called the situation “out of the blue.”

“This actually happened -- a second-shift worker at Polaris was on his way home, north of the border, and he came to a locked gate,” Pelowski said. “At the Canadian port a mile down the road, the lights were on for another four hours, but the U.S. took it upon themselves to block a state highway, because they were told to secure their borders.”

That Polaris employee, Pelowski said, had to drive to the 24-hour border crossing in Warroad Minn., to get home, adding an extra hour to his travel time.

Recently, Roseau city officials have asked their congressional delegation to help keep at least the Canadian port of entry open at its current time.

On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., issued a statement on the matter.

“I’m glad this situation was worked out, but we still have the underlying issue of reducing U.S. service hours in Lancaster and Roseau,” Peterson said. “I will continue efforts to keep these ports open longer so U.S. and Canadian travelers won’t have to rush and beat the clock each and every night.”

Pelowski said he’d like the U.S. border to remain open later, but that’s not the biggest problem right now.

“The issue is that they just indiscriminately made the decision to close the gates on their own,” he said.

“(The CBP) is saying they have nobody to close the gate at midnight,” Pelowski said. “Well, who closed the gate at midnight between last June and Tuesday? They have 20-something Border Patrol agents driving around in pickups all night, what are they doing?”

Emily Allen

Allen joined the Grand Forks Herald to cover local government and politics May 2018. Call her at 701-780-1102, email her at eallen@gfherald.com or follow her on Twitter, @Emily_theHerald.

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