Local leaders expressed chagrin and disappointment after U.S. and Canadian officials announced Friday that the closure of the border between the countries will remain in place for at least an additional 30 days.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced Friday via Twitter that the border restrictions that limit crossing to essential travel only will continue until at least Sept. 21. Acting U.S. Homeland Security Director Chad Wolf also released the news via tweet.
The closure to nonessential travel has been in place for months, but as cases of the COVID-19 virus remain high in many U.S. states, the two governments mutually agreed to continue the restriction.
The closure has had a significant impact on the economy of the north country, which normally sees a great deal of cross-border traffic for shopping, tourism and other activities that represent a significant sector of the economies on both sides of the border. Essential workers such as truck drivers and health care professionals are not affected by the restrictions.
The decision did not sit well with local leaders.
“The announcement today that the Canada-United States border restrictions were extended until September 21 was disappointing and discouraging,” Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, said in a statement. “We have worked so hard in the North Country to stop the spread of COVID-19 and have shown incredible patience as our local businesses struggle due to the lack of Canadian visitors that it is difficult to understand why the border remains closed to non-essential travel.
“Our region not only is affected economically by the border restrictions, but also socially as so many people on both sides of the border cannot see their friends and family because of these restrictions. What is particularly frustrating is that there is simply no guidance being issued at all, giving no light at the end of the tunnel for businesses, property owners, families and friends,” Jones said
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said, “While essential personnel are still exempt from the travel restrictions – property owners, those with family across the border, recreational boaters, and our North Country economy as a whole are suffering due to the continued non-essential border closure. Both governments must work together on a plan of action to safely reopen and consider interim steps to ease the hardship on our border communities.
“I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress, the White House, and the Canadian government on a pathway forward to end the uncertainty that stems from these continued 30-day extensions,” Stefanik, the co-chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus, said in a statement. North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas also expressed his disappointment in the extension.
“While another extension of the existing border crossing restrictions was wholly expected, we are again disappointed that the U.S. and Canadian governments have yet to develop any decision making framework or plan for eventual reopening, and they continue to show no interest in considering any reasonable interim steps such as an easing for family, an allowance for owners of property near the border, or some expansion of categories of essential business travel, for example,” Douglas said.
“We will continue to press for such steps before September 21 in concert with the Northern Border Caucus in Congress and with friends on both sides of the border,” he wrote in an email statement.