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Thursday, 14 April 2011 13:30

U.S. supports 24-hour port for southwest Sask.

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By John R. Statton — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Support for a 24-hour commercial port for southwest Saskatchewan has come from the U.S.

A joint resolution of the Senate and House of Representatives in Montana passed March 15 for a 24-hour port at Monchy Morgan, and is in its third reading before going to Washington.

The port would correspond with the border crossing south of Val Marie.

“We’re focused on extended hours, and establishing the trade corridor down U.S. Highway 191 — which starts at Monchy Morgan and runs south,” said Courtney Moles, executive director Phillips County Economic Growth Council of Montana.

“Right now, there’s only one 24-hour port between Montana and Saskatchewan, and it’s on the opposite side. Highway 4 is a straight shot down to Colorado, and right now, any rigs that are travelling south end up going quite a ways to try and get to one of the two current ports.”

The provincial government has remained mum on the subject, but that hasn’t deterred groups on either side of the border from pushing the trade corridor initiative.

“We found — especially after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — there is a shortage of north/south corridors particularly through western Canada and the Great Plains,” said Michael Reeves, president of Ports to Plains Alliance (PPA).

“A lot of the U.S. interstate system was built to accommodate east/west traffic, so that’s where we got started.”

The PPA is a group south of the border working through partnerships to expand a north/south trade corridor.

Members of the group consist of local municipalities, development groups, and chambers of commerce.

“We’ve had quite a bit of construction funding in place already, and what we’re trying to do is upgrade the highway to make routes safer and more efficient for trade,” said Reeves.

“We realize that by having an improved highway corridor, it increases economic opportunities.”

Reeves noted his group has seen increased trade all the way from Texas to Alberta.

“I think with the expanding energy business in Saskatchewan, you would see opportunities there,” he said.

“You also have to look at local advantages, let’s say between Saskatchewan and North Dakota —there’s a great deal of trade with agriculture, oil field, and energy producing equipment.”

Joe Kiely, vice president of PPA, noted the advantage of having multiple ports of entry.

“If something ever happened at one crossing how would you move your goods — it would hurt everybody,” said Kiely.

“There have been lots of discussions between many communities for more 24-hour ports.”

Ports to Plains plans to meet with  Jim Reiter, Minister of Saskatchewan Highways and Infrastructure on May 10 to discuss the trade corridor.

Ervin Carlier, co-chair of the Saskatchewan north/south trade corridor, has been advocating for an improved corridor for the past 20 years.

“The endorsement by the City (of Swift Current) I think was the most important thing that has been achieved,” said Carlier.

“Even though we had the commitments from all the other cities including Saskatoon — we needed Swift Current, and I think the challenge is certainly funding and money from the provincial government.”

He noted the government of Saskatchewan has many budgetary commitments to take precedent over the trade corridor, but thinks they should get on board with the issue like the U.S. has.

“Montana wants a route into this province,” said Carlier.

City of Swift Current councillors Dan Martens and Ryan Plewis met with Carlier and John Parker, of Community Futures Southwest, and discussed the status of pursuing a border crossing with Montana.

“We decided that the City of Swift Current should have a membership to the PPA,” explained Plewis.

“I think strategically we needed to be a member of that group, and lend Swift Current’s voice to that call for increased services at that border crossing would be a valuable thing.”

The business case for the Saskatchewan proponents should be completed by the end of April.

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