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Border-Crossing Fee Proposal Alarms Mainers
04/26/2013   Reported By: Samantha Fields

Several hundred thousand people cross the U.S. - Canadian border every day. Now, the Department of Homeland Security is proposing that the U.S. look into charging a border crossing fee between the U.S. and Canada, and between the U.S. and Mexico. As Samantha Fields reports, the idea is unpopular among those who live on both sides of the border.

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The Department of Homeland Security is requesting a study of the feasibility and cost of instituting a fee for anyone crossing into the U.S. on foot or in a car. Eastport Town Manager Jon Southern says even that is cause for concern. "It's probably one of the more alarming proposals I've heard during my 12 years in Maine," he says.

Southern says that's because Maine is heavily reliant on day visitors- especially Washington County, where many Canadians cross the border on a daily basis to shop, get gas, go to the hospital or go to work. Southern says Canadian visitors are a huge part of the economy, in Eastport, in Calais and in most towns near the border.

"On any given day in the summer, on the Main Street in Eastport or up in neighboring Calais, if you would look at the Wal-Mart parking lot, for example, I don't think there's any question that two-thirds of the license places are New Brunswick," Southern says.

Instituting a fee, he says - even a small one - would be a huge disincentive for those visitors. Jacques Poitras agrees. He's a reporter with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in New Brunswick, and the author of a book called "Imaginary Line: Life on an Unfinished Border."

"The idea of a fee may make sense at the national level," he says. "But at the local level, it doesn't seem to take into account the ordinary, common sense, daily reality of people who are crossing all the time."

Maine Sen. Susan Collins doesn't think it makes sense at a national level either. "Maine's biggest trading partner, not surprisingly, is Canada. But the fact is, America's biggest trading partner is Canada," she says. "And I think we want to enhance the ties between our two countries, not put what could be extensive barriers in place."

Collins says instituting a border-crossing fee would send the wrong message to Canada and to Mexico.

"We have such a strong economic relationship and friendship between the United States and Canada, as well as the United States and Mexico, and I think this fee would weaken that relationship, as well as causing businesses on both sides of the border to lose commerce that they need," Collins says.

Collins says she is also concerned about the effect these fees would have on the many Mainers with family on both sides of the border - and on the many Canadians who come to work in the U.S. She expressed her concerns, and her opposition to the study, in a letter yesterday to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee - of which she is a senior member. Because the proposal was included in the president's budget, Collins says it needs to be taken seriously.

Back in Eastport, Jon Southern says people are taking it very seriously. And he says he hopes every community in the area is equally as alarmed -- and ready to speak up.


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