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The Rural Maine Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of the Betterment Fund.

Feds plan to cut the operating hours of a Washington County border crossing

Federal agencies are moving forward with a plan to cut operating hours at a border crossing in Vanceboro in half — a move that some local residents worry could harm families and the local economy.

The crossing, located in Washington County, about halfway between Houlton and Calais, has been open 24 hours a day, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced earlier this week that beginning on Sept. 11, the crossing will only operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Vanceboro Selectwoman Cheryl Long said that many locals regularly visit the nearby town of McAdam, New Brunswick, just 6 miles over the border, to see family, visit businesses and for essential services — all potentially curtailed by the new border limits.

"The closest hospital would be, like, 60 miles, no matter which we go," Long said. "Sixty miles to Calais, Lincoln or Houlton."

In its announcement, CBP said the change was an attempt to "redeploy" its resources and better serve the local community.

"The change to operational hours comes as an attempt to better allocate resources during peak travel periods within the Calais, ME area of operations," the agency said.

The agency said a recent study showed that 89% of the traffic at the Vanceboro port of entry was between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Long said that she and other local representatives have contacted state and federal officials to try to fight the CBP's decision.

State Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos of Friendship, who's been assisting the town with the issue, said the decision was short-sighted, and wrote a letter to CBP officials on Thursday afternoon calling on the agency to reconsider the change. In the letter, Evangelos noted several new investments to rail infrastructure in the region, and called for a stay on the closure until Maine and New Brunswick officials can weigh in.

"Besides the business development, the human side of this is even worse. Many of the residents in the area hold dual citizenship," Evangelos wrote. "The health clinic is 6 miles away in McAdam, NB. People work night shifts. This closure will require people to drive almost a 140 mile round trip to Calais or New Brunswick when the real destination is 1-6 miles away...with this price of gas. It's absurd. Please help us delay this closure until the representative delegations can weigh in."

Evangelos also criticized the agency for not providing full 30 days' notice to the public of the change, after officials told residents that they would do so at a meeting in July.

In an email, a CBP spokesperson acknowledged that "due to last minute circumstances, CBP was only able to share the official announcement 27-days prior to the scheduled operational change," and said the agency notified Maine's congressional delegation on June 17.

The spokesperson added that port has seen a steady reduction in vehicular traffic over the past decade, but an increase in rail traffic, and "to better serve this need, CBP officers will be redirected to periods that better reflect the increased rail traffic to ensure the safety of goods entering the United States."

Updated: August 19, 2022 at 2:29 PM EDT
This post has been updated with a comment from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.