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Roundtable discussion centers on border crossing regulations

Participants in a roundtable discussion with Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., on Friday at the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce said new border regulations requiring two forms of identification have not significantly slowed the flow of ...

Participants in a roundtable discussion with Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., on Friday at the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce said new border regulations requiring two forms of identification have not significantly slowed the flow of Canadian shoppers to the area.

Julie Rygg, executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau, cited statistics showing border crossings in Pembina, N.D., increased 27 percent in January, 43 percent in February and 16 percent in March from the same months in 2007.

"The two forms of ID aren't the problem," Rygg said. "What we are hearing from Canadians is there is confusion over what forms of ID they need to show."

In January, new regulations took effect requiring those crossing the border into the U.S. to show a passport or two forms of identification such as a driver's license or military ID card and a birth certificate or proof of citizenship. U.S. residents are no longer able to use an oral declaration of citizenship to gain entrance to the U.S. at border crossing stations.

By June 2009, residents and visitors entering the U.S. by land will need a passport, a cheaper passport card or an enhanced driver's license or similar card with increased security features.

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"We're trying to strike the right balance between security and commerce," Pomeroy said. But Pomeroy added that Canada "is a pretty low risk" for terrorism and said he doesn't think "this disruption is warranted."

Pomeroy said Congress has been attempting to slow the implementation of the Department of Homeland Security's Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which is to take effect by June 2009, partially because of concerns about how it may affect border communities.

Meghan Maurer, vice president and store manager of the Macy's store at Columbia Mall, worried that the new restrictions might cut back on spontaneous shopping trips by Canadians.

Rygg also said the cost of getting passports for all family members might also deter some visitors.

Jeff Jasperson, general manager of the Canad Inns Destination Center, said the two forms of ID have worked fine, and he would like to see that continue instead of adding the passport requirement in 2009.

Pomeroy said it is possible the June 2009 passport requirement could change or be pushed back after a new president takes office next year and said a five-year extension of the current two-document system has been discussed.

Participants in attendance also voiced concerns about how the new regulations might affect Americans visiting Canada and Canadian businesses looking to add U.S. locations in the Grand Forks area.

But Bill Reid, Columbia Mall's general manager, said the strong flow of Canadian traffic has continued. Reid said recent figures based on currency exchanges indicate Canadian shoppers may make up as much as 15 percent of the mall's business.

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"Times are good," Rygg said. "Let's keep it that way."

Several in attendance stressed the importance of educating Canadian visitors and U.S. residents about the requirements.

Columbia Mall and the convention and visitors bureau both have sections on their Web sites informing Canadian visitors about the border requirements. Reid said the Canadian page on the mall's Web site gets almost double the number of hits of any other page on the site.

Pete Haga from Mayor Mike Brown's office said the concern and high level of awareness of the changes that took place in January made for a smoother transition and indicated that a similarly high level of awareness of the 2009 regulations would help.

"I don't think we can say it's not a problem," Haga said. "I don't think it's something that's going to go away. Is it a big problem right now? We're not seeing people turned away at the border by the boatload. But some of that is probably due to the awareness and attention to it."

Schuster covers business. Reach him at (701) 780-1107, by e-mail at rschuster@gfherald.com or view his business blog at www.areavoices.com

/bizbuzz.

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