Border Patrol considers closing three streets near Canadian border

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(Host) The U.S. Border Patrol is talking with local officials about the possibility of closing three streets that run between the villages of Derby Line, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, the idea has generated lots of interest and differing opinions among locals on both side of the border.

(Zind) There’s a black line painted on the floor of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House.

On one side of the line is the village of Derby Line, Vermont. On the other is Stanstead, Quebec.

The international boundary runs right through the building where, On June 19th, there will be a joint meeting of officials from Derby and Stanstead.

(Brian Smith) “I’m 56 and I can’t remember anything happening like that. It should be fun and interesting at the same time.”

(Zind) That’s town of Derby Select Board chairman Brian Smith, who grew up in the area. What’s prompted the meeting is talk of closing three small streets that cross the border between the two communities.

Smith says the U.S. Border Patrol has told him it’s concerned about security on the streets. There are no gates or border stations, although there are surveillance cameras.

Smith says the streets are used by local residents who cross into either town to visit or to shop and by young people on this side of the border who slip across to take advantage of Canada’s lower drinking age to buy beer.

He says if the streets are closed and blocked with gates, as some have suggested residents could simply use two nearby checkpoints staffed by the Border Patrol.

Smith says the three streets are most important for what they symbolize: A spirit of neighborliness and goodwill between the U.S. and Canada. He says that’s why local opinion is divided over the issue of closing them.

(Smith) “I’ve heard both. I’ve heard, if it’s going to protect lives in the United States, great, let’s do it, but do it tastefully.’ And I’ve heard, don’t touch my streets.'”

(Zind) Over on the other side of the border, opinions reflect a different perception of border security.

Jean-Yves Durocher is publisher of the weekly Stanstead, Quebec Journal. Durocher says some of his readers see the idea of the United States closing the streets as an insult, especially at a time when Canadian soldiers are serving – and dying- in Afghanistan.

(Durocher) “What we’re being told by the Americans is that basically, we’re going to put a fence right there thank you very much, a pleasure talking to you!’ I mean it’s not exactly the nicest way of treating a neighbor who is bleeding to death right now fighting a war in Afghanistan on behalf of the United States.”

(Zind) Durocher says he understands there are legitimate concerns about border security, but he says anyone who wants to cross the border illegally would not use public streets just a short distance from a Border Patrol checkpoint.

(Durocher) “It looks like normal police paranoia of trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist so that they have said that they are fixing a problem.”

(Zind) Both Durocher and Smith say they expect a large turnout on June 19th, for the joint meeting of town officials to discuss the streets.

A spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol says the agency will have no comment on the idea of closing the streets until after the meeting.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.

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