Border security restrictions hurting local companies

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(Host) New security restrictions on the U.S. Canada border have hurt local companies that rely on easy access to smaller border crossings.

The companies complain that federal Customs officials have denied them permits to cross at non-commercial checkpoints.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) It may be two countries, but it’s all one road for Starr Trucking of North Troy. For decades, the big rigs have crossed into Canada and back at a small checkpoint in North Troy.

Owner Bobby Starr – who’s also a state senator – says it’s a quick three-mile trip from the border to nearby Mansonville, Quebec to haul raw material from a plastics plant there.

(Starr) “I pick up anywhere from two to eight or ten loads a week there. And it takes usually about an hour to run over and load and come back.”

(Dillon) But Starr’s company recently was denied a permit to cross in North Troy.

Instead, U.S. Customs and Border Protection now requires him to drive the long way around to the international port of entry at Derby Line.

(Starr) “If you go around, which we have to do now, instead of going six miles at the maximum, we’re going 82 miles. So instead of costing us at $2 a mile, $12, you know it’s costing us $165 per load extra. If I raised my rates by that much, probably a Canadian carrier will get the job.”

(Dillon) Last spring, Customs told Vermont trucking companies that their permits to use the smaller crossings would expire in September. Under the new standards, the trucking firms had to re-apply for permits.

Nora Erhlich is the assistant director for field operations for Customs and Border Protection in Boston. She says the commercial border check points, such as the one at Derby Line, are better equipped to inspect goods coming into the country.

(Erhlich) “The agency’s mission is to prevent weapons of mass destruction from entering the United States. Our commercial centers have the tools and technology and facility infrastructure to ensure that we’re protecting, or reviewing whatever is coming into the Untied States. The permit ports are not as equipped.”

(Dillon) Erhlich says that Customs and Border Protection works with companies to help them get new permits. She says one program allows drivers, importers and trucking companies to be pre-screened for faster border crossings.

(Erhlich) “They’re always eligible to apply for a permit. And if they meet the standards for today’s permit program, then they are allowed the privilege of transiting through a permit port. If not, then they would be going to a commercial center like the Highgates and the Derbys and the Norton Vermont.”

(Dillon) The new restrictions affected Bordeau Brothers, a feed and farm supply dealer in Sheldon. After customs rejected a number of permits, the company resubmitted the paperwork, with the help of various public officials including State Senator Peter Welch and Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie.

Will Manahan is manager of Bordeau Brothers.

(Manahan) “It’s been resolved for the most part. We’ve had a major share of our permits approved. We did have a few denials. But some of the denials we can live with, it may be vendors we don’t deal with on regular basis. But the major ones that we needed – the products that we pull from our major suppliers, have been approved.”

(Dillon) But for Starr Trucking is still in limbo.

Bobby Starr says he still hasn’t received new permits to cross at North Troy.

(Starr) “In our particular case we’ve been crossing the border for over 50 years, and never had one incident of anything wrong. So they aren’t using history as a criteria.”

(Dillon) Starr says he made a decision a number of years ago to expand his business north of the border. Now he says, that business is seriously threatened.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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