North Country officials glad Biden is planning for US-Canada border opening

PLATTSBURGH — North Country officials applauded President Joe Biden’s recent executive order directing the U.S. work alongside the Canadian and Mexican governments to plan for the eventual withdrawal of existing land border restrictions, reopening the gates to travelers once again.

“This is the sort of official planning effort we have been calling for,” North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas says in a statement. “Not a rush to reopening, which isn’t in the cards anytime soon, but a commitment now to exploring agreed conditions and metrics along with possible steps that might eventually begin.

“One of the greatest frustrations of the longstanding closure of our border to most personal travel has been around the absence of any official discussions or planning regarding the eventual way forward,” Douglas continued.

“We thank President Biden for this step, and we thank Senator (Chuck) Schumer and the bi-partisan Northern Border Caucus in the House among others for helping to get this on the White House agenda so early.”

Extended closure

Biden’s order called on the U.S. secretary of state and the Defense and Homeland Security departments to collaborate with officials in Canada and Mexico to pen health and safety measures necessary for border reopening.

The land borders have been closed to nonessential travel since mid-March of 2020 due to concerns of the novel coronavirus. Restrictions were most recently extended until at least Sunday, Feb. 21.

Trucking was deemed essential, however, and has continued at the North Country’s land crossings.

As previously reported by the Press-Republican, the Wilson Task Force on Public Health and the U.S.-Canadian Border, comprised of binational representatives, was expected to present recommendations for lifting the restrictions come March.

Douglas said the chamber looked forward to hearing those recommendations.

“This process should now be able to feed information, ideas and stakeholder input to these agencies and their Canadian counterparts,” Douglas says in the release, adding that he had reached out to the center and to former Quebec Premier Jean Charest, who co-leads the task force, to express the North Country Chamber’s anxiousness to assist.

“Applaud the administration”

New York state Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, said border restrictions had been, without question, a “major hit” to North Country families, workers and businesses. He called Biden’s executive order “much-welcomed news.”

“I have continually stated that we must find safe, common-sense solutions to begin reopening the border that are agreeable to both nations and won’t put public health at risk, but instead will allow the economy to heal,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

“While this discourse will no doubt be extensive, it’s necessary for determining how to best reopen our borders to safely reunite families and reopen our international economies,” he continued.

“As co-chair of CSG East’s Canada-U.S. Relations Committee, I have been and will continue to work with local, state and federal leaders to move this process along for the sake of our families and to help our communities recover; I applaud the administration for taking action on this matter.”

Plattsburgh town Supervisor Michael Cashman said he also applauded President Biden’s prioritization of the border reopening.

“It was infuriating that the previous administration squandered critical time planning,” Cashman says in a statement. “From the start I have been advocating for metrics and or a dashboard system that sets the transparent expectations for a safe reopening from both sides.

“Public health must remain at the forefront of that plan. My hope is that border communities will be engaged in someway moving forward.”

Clear bilateral metrics

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said that in her role as co-chair of the Northern Border Caucus, she also pushed for a safe Can-Am border reopening.

“I immediately urged President Biden upon his swearing-in to establish a bilateral, metrics based plan to safely reopen the northern border as soon as possible,” she said in a statement Tuesday.

While admitting the executive order was “an important first step,” Stefanik said, “we need to continue to advocate for clear bilateral metrics for safely re-opening our northern border to provide greater certainty for North Country businesses, families and communities.”


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