A proposal raising the possibility of border crossing fees that was buried in the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) 2014 budget request has sparked outrage and concern in border towns across the country.
“There’s a lot of people who are quite upset about this,” said Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “You put this in place and start collecting fees, and you’ll either end up with people not crossing the border because of the fee or longer lineups because of the fee. A great deal of opposition is building among the northern border members of Congress right now for two reasons: one is that [a fee] would even be considered, and the second is that they buried it in the DHS budget.”
The budget proposal submitted April 10 by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano included a request to fund “a record number of more than 25,000 Customs and Border Protection officers” through appropriations and increased user fees. The department said the request would expedite travel and trade and reduce wait times at more than 300 border crossings and at airports and seaports. The DHS also asked for money to study the feasibility of border crossing fees as a means to fund their request.
“The only reason we even know about this proposed study is because a member of the Homeland Security committee from Buffalo was reading through the budget, saw it and raised concerns,” Oplinger said.
DHS says the study should consider increasing existing tolls in Detroit and Buffalo, including fees on tickets for bus or train passengers as well as imposing new fees at (land ports of entry where existing capability is not present) which would include the Blaine, Lynden and Sumas crossings in Whatcom County. “The only thing we know at this point is that the proposal is along the same lines as the security fees that you pay every time you go through the airport,” Oplinger said. “If that’s the model that they use, then it’s not a stretch to consider that everyone would pay the fee every time they cross the border.”
Arthur Reber, Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee chair, wrote to U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene and her staff with his concerns. “It would have a significant negative impact on the communities near the border. Blaine, Bellingham, Point Roberts, Ferndale, Lynden and other towns are highly dependent on cross-border traffic,” he said. “Imposing a fee would certainly reduce visits by Canadians and pose a significant burden to U.S. residents who travel northward on a regular basis.”
“It might not hurt Bellingham so much, because if they are coming this far, it’s likely for a shopping trip,” Oplinger said. “But it will pretty dramatically affect communities like ours that rely on people from the Lower Mainland coming down for milk and gas.”
Oplinger reported that U.S. Representatives Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene have come out in opposition to both the study and the toll. “We’re asking that they don’t move forward with the study at all,” he said. “But, if they’re going to look at it, then there needs to be an economic assessment and a look at what the impact on communities like ours is going to be.”