St. Stephen – The pending nighttime closure of the Calais side of the Milltown international bridge crossing, and the possibility of Canada Border Services Agency following suit, are a serious public safety concern, says St. Stephen’s fire chief.
“The response times of both fire departments will be affected,” said Fire Chief Jeff Richardson.
“My sentiments mirror those of Chief Richardson,” said Calais Fire Chief Jeff Posick.
The fire departments in St. Stephen, N.B., and Calais, Me., have a mutual aid agreement, which sees the firefighters responding across the border to help each other battle blazes.
The decision to close the Calais side of border operations overnight came after an operational review, which identified low volume crossings in seven ports of entry in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
No U.S. Customs and Border Protection jobs will be lost; staff will be reassigned to other border crossings.
A date has not yet been set for the change in border hours on the American side, and CBSA has not announced whether it will reduce hours at its Milltown port of entry.
Posick said he hopes CBP will make concessions for emergency vehicles to cross “in a timely manner.”
“They’ve done this before,”said Richardson of CBP announcing changes in border hours at Milltown. “They’ve reached out to us, and we told them our reasonings, and that it would be advantageous for it to stay open.”
Posick said two or three years ago, he had heard talk of possibility of the international bridge hours at Milltown being reduced overnight.
“They kicked around ideas, and it went away, and I stopped worrying about it,” he stated.
Posick said before responding to fires in St. Stephen, Calais firefighters consult an area map, and then take the bridge that affords them the quickest access to the fire scene.
Closing the bridge any time in Milltown “will make it difficult for us” said Posick, citing, for example, a delay in response time to the Milltown area of St. Stephen, which is home to the Arauca (formerly Flakeboard Limited) mill.
Richardson said he doesn’t think the decision will be reversed this time. “It’s a different administration. It’s all about dollars and cents,” he stated, adding decisions seem to be made “by bean counters, who’ve never been in the area.”
He said commercial traffic, recreational trailers, and motor homes are encouraged to use the larger, newer, third bridge crossing, to keep traffic to a minimum through either Calais or St. Stephen.
Before the third bridge was built, there were delays of hours, and lineups stretching for kilometres, as people waited to cross from one country to another.
“The Milltown bridge saves time for us,” said Richardson.
“A lot of people couldn’t understand the reasoning behind three bridges, but it’s just public safety.”
Statistics supplied by CBSA for the Canadian ports of entry in St. Stephen for 2016 show 251,771 people crossed into this country at the new Third Bridge; 635,482 people were processed at the Ferry Point Bridge and 273,923 people entered Canada at Milltown.