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Southeast Alaska town bristles over Canadian decision to cut border hours

  • Author:
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published February 27, 2015

A Canadian decision to close the border at night between the Southeast Alaska community of Hyder and the British Columbia town of Stewart has residents in both communities bristling about potential economic and safety impacts.

"It's got everybody kind of up in arms right now," Wes Loe, president of the Hyder Community Association and owner of Hyder General Store, said Friday.

Hyder is a community of roughly 87 people on the southeastern tip of Alaska's panhandle. About 2 miles northeast sits the B.C. community of Stewart, population roughly 400.

Hyder phone numbers use a Canadian area code, not Alaska's. Electrical services are provided by Canada, Loe said, and residents use both U.S. and Canadian currency. Loe said at his business currency is "at least 80 percent Canadian."

"We consider ourselves one community," said Angela Brand Danuser, former mayor of Stewart. "We do everything together, and everything that Stewart does, we promote it as Stewart and Hyder."

Loe said closing the border overnight has been compared to "putting a chain across your own driveway."

The Canada Border Services Agency confirmed Friday that the border's new service hours would be 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.

The decision came after the CBSA determined the station was "underutilized outside of primary operating hours," agency spokesperson Stefanie Wudel wrote.

"While the CBSA recognizes that the change in hours will affect some, the agency remains committed to the free flow of legitimate goods and people across the border," Wudel wrote.

The decision will not result in a loss of jobs, Wudel wrote.

The border crossing is staffed on the Canadian side. U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not have a presence there, spokesperson Frank Falcon confirmed.

Sharon Burke, accounting clerk for the District of Stewart, said that the CBSA informed the Stewart Mayor's Office on Monday about the decision to close the border.

"Everyone's talking about it," Burke said.

Residents on both sides of the border echoed two major concerns: safety and the economy.

They question how Hyder residents will seek medical attention between midnight and 8 a.m. when the facilities are located in Stewart.

Wudel wrote that CBSA emergency services to Hyder would not be affected. "Provisions have been made to ensure emergency vehicles will continue to have access to the roads 24/7."

Residents question whether that's enough.

"The road from here to Stewart is our evacuation route," said Hyder city clerk Carol Denton. "For a tsunami or any other kind of disaster."

And while emergency vehicles will have access roads, oftentimes residents choose to drive themselves to the clinic to receive medical care. Waiting for an ambulance can take longer and costs money, Brand Danuser said.

"I can't believe that the Canadian government would be willing to turn their backs on a community that relies on Canada for their emergency services," said Brand Danuser, a Canadian.

The second concern is how the economy will be affected. Both Stewart and Hyder rely heavily on tourism during summer months. The reduced border station hours begin April 1, Loe said, right before the summer business season begins.

"In the summertime we have people coming in and out of here all night," Loe said.

One tourist draw is Hyder's bear-viewing platform that opens at 6 a.m. Bear viewing is best early in the morning, Brand Danuser said, and visitors tend to stay an extra night in Stewart to get there early.

Residents echoed concerns that tourists would skip Hyder or shorten their trips to Stewart.

Loe said one couple who regularly visits Hyder and frequents his shop in summer has promised not to return should access to the community be closed during early morning hours.

"It hasn't even started and I'm losing business," Loe said.

Another concern echoed by residents is how mineworkers will continue to work 24-hour shifts. These workers must cross from Canada into Alaska before the road snakes back into Canadian territory. Brand Danuser wondered how their operations would function without overnight access to the roads.

Brand Danuser said she used to go to bars in Hyder during summer. Now, "I'm a grown woman and I have to have a curfew at 11 o'clock at night?"

Residents of Hyder planned a meeting about the closures on Friday evening. Brand Danuser said she was organizing a petition in Stewart in opposition to the closure.

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