Feds eye extra fee at border; Rep. Candice Miller says proposal is 'ill-advised'

Apr 24, 2013

Ursel Bucholz might have to curtail future trips across the Blue Water Bridge.

A resident of London, Ontario, Bucholz said she visits the Port Huron area about once a month and has many friends who make the trip with her.

But the Department of Homeland Security is considering adding an extra fee to her trip across the St. Clair River.

President Barack Obama’s 2014 proposed budget for the DHS calls for a study of possible user fees for vehicles or pedestrians at land borders.

“It would affect my desire to come here,” Bucholz said, after loading her car with goods from the Birchwood Mall. “They should realize that they’re going to be losing a lot of business.”

A user fee is incorporated into airfare for international travelers coming into the U.S. According to a DHS official, new fees would right any disparity between fees at air, land or sea ports of entry by imposing a user fee on each form of travel.

The DHS study, which would look at land border fees at both the northern and southwestern borders, would be completed during the next nine months.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, is a member of the U.S. Canadian Interparliamentary Group, where just six weeks ago, Canadian members of parliament were complaining about a $5.50 fee for Canadians entering the U.S. via airplane or cruise ship.

“They didn’t think it was very fair since they don’t charge our folks,” Miller said. “They’re very upset about that and now this...”

Miller believed the prospective fees would go toward Customs and Border Patrol.

“I think the president’s proposal is ill-advised,” she said. “This is a time where we want good border security, but we also want to transit commerce and people across the border.

“Canada is not only Michigan’s, but our nation’s, biggest trading border.”

Miller said it was possible money collected at northern borders would go toward security at the southern border.

“Much of the funding that we’d like to see on the northern border is going to the southern border right now,” she said. “There’s nothing to say that (money) would stay local.”

Dan Casey, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County, said Canadians spend about $57 million dollars in St. Clair County — about 25 percent of what Canadians spend in Michigan.

“I think additional fees, increased tolls or delays that might result from that at a border crossing, works against our efforts to increase trade between the countries,” Casey said.

“Our county, probably more than any other in Michigan, other than Wayne County, stands to lose from this.”

Mike Bradley, mayor of Sarnia, said the prospect of user fees had become one of rising concern throughout Canada.

“When the economies of both countries are still fragile and in a slow recovery, I have to believe that it would hurt both countries, and I have to believe it would hurt the U.S. more,” he said.

Bradley said user fees and other impediments at the border have slowed economic growth.

“We felt that strongly here when the passport law went into effect ... people on both sides were not willing to get a passport,” he said.

After the passport law went into effect, Bradley said traffic at the Point Edward casino decreased. He said the passport law had a lot to do with decreasing numbers at Sarnia’s Bayfest, which was canceled this year.

“Anything they raise through this will be offset by the economic damage in both countries,” Bradley said.

Because Margaret Johnston, of London, Ontario, only comes into the U.S. a few times a year, she didn’t think an added fee would have much of an impact for her.

“We would probably still come, but that’s only because we come here rarely,” Johnston said.

On Monday, Johnston had gone shopping at Target in Fort Gratiot, even though a Target just opened in London.

“We’ve been into the one in London, and it’s inferior,” she said. “Target’s admitted they don’t want to take traffic away from their American market.”

Larry and Faith Seabrook, of Port Stanley, Ontario, agreed. Although box stores such as Marshall’s or Target are in Ontario, Larry Seabrook said higher minimum wage requirements in Canada increase the prices of goods.

Even with better prices in the States, Larry said he tries to limit his trips to the area because of the hassle of customs and tolls.

“They’ve made it a hassle for Canadians,” he said.

Beverly Guinness, of London, said she travels to the U.S. once a month for groceries or clothing.

“I’d be a little upset to have to pay more to come over,” she said. “The economy is obviously bad, so for us to come across and spend money here is obviously a good thing for the United States.”

Whitney Litchfield, of Sarnia, said her continued weekly gas or grocery trips to the U.S. would depend on the price of the proposed fee. She said the user fee is sending mixed signals to Canadians.

“Especially in Port Huron, where they’re doing this Canada Appreciation Day now because they want people to come here,” she said. “This seems to be the opposite.”

Eastbound passenger vehicles on the Blue Water Bridge pay about $3 in tolls, while westbound travelers pay about $3.50 in tolls.

The $3 toll on the American side of the bridge goes toward the maintenance and operation of the bridge, according to Michigan Department of Transportation spokesperson Rob Morosi.

The tolls allow the bridge to be self-sustaining, Morosi said.