Cablegate: View From the Border: Maine-New Brunswick Crossings

DE RUEHHA #0028/01 1121244
R 211244Z APR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. 07 HALIFAX 0012
B. 07 OTTAWA 2035

HALIFAX 00000028 001.2 OF 002

1. SUMMARY: Building on the border reporting in ref (a), conoff
and assistant visited the Calais/St. Stephen and
Houlton/Woodstock ports of entry on the Maine/New Brunswick
border the week of March 31. Meetings with border officials,
community representatives and businesspeople confirmed that the
locals are expecting and prepared for full WHTI implementation,
but that concerns still exist about backups and declining
tourism from out-of-town. The infrastructure and challenges at
both POEs vary widely, serving as a good reminder that there is
no one-size-fits-all solution to securing the land border while
facilitating legitimate travel. END SUMMARY.


2. Calais/St. Stephen really feels like one town on two sides of
the border. The border crossing point is a short two-lane
bridge over the St. Croix River. Restaurants, shops, services
and homes are located close to the river and people in both
towns depend on frequent border crossing as part of their daily
routine. The port would work fine if it only handled local
traffic, but its location on the most direct route to Saint
John, NB and Nova Scotia makes it popular with truckers and bus
tours, and it is the busiest port on the Maine-New Brunswick
border. A backup of even three trucks can quickly become a
traffic snarl in the town center, causing gridlock, pollution
and a noisy eyesore that keeps border concerns at the top of the
local agenda. Officials on both sides have come up with
solutions to keep the traffic flowing, but there is only so much
that can be done at that location and relief really won't come
until the new bridge and POE currently under construction are
completed a few miles up the river.

3. Questions about the new bridge were raised in most
conversations conoff had with residents in St. Stephen and
Calais. Construction is well underway, and the general
expectation is that the bridge will be completed by October 2008
and the Canadian POE could be operational by December 2008.
Current estimates are that the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol
(CBP) facility will not be ready until December 2009, with the
earliest possibility being late summer 2009. Unfortunately,
that delay may mean that a major bridge and direct highway
approach from Saint John, NB, may be standing unused for up to a
year while traffic continues to crawl in Calais/St. Stephen.
The possibility of a partial opening is being floated around,
but it doesn't seem to have developed into a concrete plan.
Understandably, the local communities are interested in options
that will get that bridge open as soon as possible. On the
other hand, CBP employees properly pointed out their concern
that rushing to open the new facility or a partial opening may
result in substandard work that they may be stuck with
indefinitely. As one officer commented, "We've been waiting for
that bridge for 25 years, let's take a few more months and get
it right."

4. Residents on both sides of the river seem to have accepted
the WHTI documentation requirements, and now are just trying to
determine their best option to facilitate frequent cross-border
travel. The new passport card is proving to be a popular choice
for Americans, and U.S. Post Offices throughout Maine have been
promoting the card, even holding special Saturday hours to
accept applications. People do not seem to be choosing the
NEXUS card here in great numbers yet, probably because there are
currently only two places to enroll in Atlantic Canada, the
Halifax International Airport and at the Woodstock POE.
Combined, the two centers have enrolled about 800 people since
commencing operations. The Canadians in St. Stephen who don't
already have passports seem to be waiting and hopeful that New
Brunswick will be introducing a WHTI compliant Enhanced Drivers
License (EDL). There didn't seem to be any expectations that
the state of Maine will be developing an EDL.

5. As expected, conversations with two hoteliers in St. Stephen
revealed apprehension about the upcoming tourist season. Both
reported a decline in visitors in 2007 and they expected numbers
to remain down this year. Although WHTI's requirements were
cited as factors, both acknowledged that the price of gas and
the weak U.S. dollar were probably the biggest contributors
keeping U.S. tourists from visiting New Brunswick these days.


6. The Houlton, ME/Woodstock, NB POEs stand in sharp contrast to
their busy little neighbors two hours to the southeast. The CBP
and CBSA facilities are right on I-95 and the Trans-Canada
Highway, and are designed to handle significant traffic. The CBP

HALIFAX 00000028 002.2 OF 002

facility has six processing booths, though no more than four are
needed, even during peak travel hours. Backups here are
uncommon and traffic tends to flow smoothly in both directions.
Unlike the towns of Calais, ME and St. Stephen, NB, which are
separated by the width of the St. Croix river, Houlton, ME and
Woodstock, NB are 15 miles apart. Thus, the POEs are several
miles from residential and business centers as well, so backups
don't tend to bring the towns to a standstill.

7. There is a NEXUS registration site in the Woodstock CBSA
facility and staff members report a steady flow of new
registrations - both Canadian and American citizens. Despite
the increased awareness of NEXUS in these communities, Port
Directors on both sides report that there still aren't enough
NEXUS card-carrying travelers to justify a NEXUS-only lane.
With the exception of a handful of Canadian nurses who live in
Woodstock and commute daily to Houlton, NEXUS cards are still
pretty much a novelty at the Maine/New Brunswick POEs.

8. CBP Houlton is the central monitoring facility for a number
of unmanned POEs along the northern Maine/New Brunswick border.
These high-tech border points have video monitors and finger
scanners and can be used by pre-registered and vetted members of
the community. CBP is deservedly proud of these stations and
they are a good example of how novel approaches can be used to
meet WHTI requirements. Without these remote stations, people
living in these isolated communities might have to travel hours
out of their way to cross the border legally at a fully-manned

9. COMMENT: The WHTI transition at the Maine/New Brunswick
border is going smoothly. Because of significant advance notice
and flexible implementation, the end of oral declarations on
January 31 went just like any other day at the border.
Questions about when the new Calais/St. Stephen POEs will be
operational are probably a bigger story in this part of the
district than the upcoming passport requirements. We can expect
that any problems or delays with the opening of that bridge will
be closely followed and widely reported on both sides of the
border. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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