The U.S. Customs and Border Protection may cut hours at an Eastern Washington border crossing, citing a 21 percent reduction in vehicle crossings over the past five years.
But local residents and business owners that use the Danville crossing, which is 30 miles north of Republic, are questioning the wisdom of limiting a border crossing that effectively sits in the middle of a rural community where the biggest town is on foreign soil – Grand Forks, British Columbia.
“It’s multiple communities that all serve as one rural community,” said Emily Burt, who owns Republic Brewing Co. with her husband, Billy. “It’s like putting a blockade in the middle of one big functional community.”
The crossing, one of 14 drivable border crossings in Washington state and Idaho, had an average of 67,240 passenger vehicles a year cross into the United States from Canada between 2013 and 2017, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. During the same years,an average of 435 commercial trucks crossed into the U.S. at the location annually.
Currently, the Danville crossing is open from 8 a.m. to midnight. The proposal, which would start in October, would limit the hours to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Labor Day to Memorial Day, and to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the remaining three summer months.
Crossings at Danville have been steadily decreasing since 1996, the first in which data is readily available. That year, 102,239 personal vehicles and 2,521 trucks crossed into the U.S. at Danville.
Jason Givens, a spokesman for the federal border agency, said the proposal to shorten the hours is an effort to “utilize all available resources responsibly to perform our mission in facilitating trade and travel and safeguarding the homeland.”
“CBP is making a fiscally responsible decision to adjust the hours due to the downward trend of border crossings at the Danville” port of entry, Givens said in an email.
Adjusting the hours will allow the agency to shift officers to ports with higher volumes and reduce costs in locations with high overtime, he said.
Givens added that the reduction in hours is not final, but a decision is “likely” to be made this week.
The busiest border crossing into Washington is near Blaine, north of Bellingham, which had an annual average of nearly 4.4 million personal vehicles and more than 370,000 trucks cross from 2013 to 2017.
Steven Scott, who lives nine miles from the Danville crossing, said he can’t make sense of the reasoning for the closure.
At a recent meeting about the potential hours reduction that took place in Colville, the 75 people who attended got “blown off” by representatives of the border agency, Scott said.
“Talk about feeling railroaded. It wasn’t, ‘We want your opinion.’ It was, ‘This is happening,’” he said. “They were either being overly dismissive or just didn’t care.”
For Scott, the reasons to keep the border open from 8 a.m. to midnight are obvious. Canadians and Americans live their lives on both sides of the border, and shutting it down would not only hurt businesses but strain families.
Scott estimated the coffee roasting business he owns with his dad, Rich, and sister, Satya, would lose 20 percent of its business, equivalent to $30,000 a year.
“We’re not a big business. We’re a family-run business. Cutting us from a huge customer base seems ludicrous to me,” he said. “We’re a small local community that depends on trade in these places. The effect to a community like this is huge.”
He also worries he’d see less of his Canadian girlfriend, who would rush home to get over the border in time. Scott said that, though he is American, he attended second grade through high school at Canadian schools in Grand Forks.
“For me, it’s a 12-minute drive so I go up there and do my grocery shopping,” he said. “We live in these small communities. We’re pretty intertwined.”
Givens, with the border agency, said the change will have little impact.
“It is important to note there will be minimal impact as CBP averages only three vehicles per day during the proposed hours of reduction. Due to the small number of vehicles crossing during these hours, CBP feels this will have minimal impact to the local economy,” he said. “With that said, we are continuing to listen to the public’s concerns, as the decision to adjust hours has not been finalized.”
Scott and some others who use the Danville crossing say they seriously doubt the agency’s data showing such a low number of crossings during the hours proposed to be cut.
The border agency has pointed out to locals that two other border crossings – at Ferry and Laurier – provide other nearby points of entry. Ferry closes at 5 p.m. and Laurier, which closes at midnight, is at least 30 miles from Danville and on the other side of the Kettle River Range that includes Boundary Mountain, Togo Mountain, Bulldog Mountain and Profanity Peak.
The nearest 24-hour crossing, near Oroville, is nearly two hours west of Danville.
The border hours controversy has reached Washington, D.C., where U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, said “maintaining the current hours at the Danville Port of Entry is key to the economic stability of the area and ensures the safety of my constituents.”
In a letter written in June to the border agency Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, McMorris Rodgers said the crossing is a “vital corridor for my constituents that live in Ferry County and Danville.” She said limiting the hours would be “detrimental and will only have a negative effect on the communities.”
For Burt, at Republic Brewing, she estimates the border change could cost her up to $50,000 a year in lost business.
She and Scott said any savings the government realizes by changing the hours will translate to lost revenue by local businesses.
“I can’t imagine the businesses in Washington will lose less than what the government is saving,” Burt said. “It feels mathematically inadequate.”
Business is Burt’s most immediate concern, but she also worries about the loss of community.
“We took all our swim lessons in Grand Forks,” she said. “We took our driving lessons there because it was the closest stoplight. It’s got the restaurants and the only movie theater.”