Landlocked Whatcom County community is biggest victim of national border shutdown
Unique geography traps 1,300 permanent American residents as U.S., Canada halt “non-essential” border traffic.
Canadians blocked from visiting vacation properties, boat moorage; local businesses suffer.
Ericksen joins 42nd District lawmakers in calling for sensible travel rules, will press case with Congress, Trump Administration.
OLYMPIA – Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, is calling on the U.S. and Canadian governments to relax travel restrictions that have left 1,300 American citizens trapped in a five-square-mile enclave just south of the Canadian border.
Point Roberts, on the southern tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, lies in U.S. territory, but it can only be reached by land by traveling through Canada. The shutdown of the U.S./Canada border to “non-essential” travel has largely confined permanent residents to the postage-stamp-sized community. Meanwhile, nearly 4,000 Canadian citizens have been unable to get to their vacation homes and other properties in the area.
“We need immediate relief for the citizens and property owners at Point Roberts,” Ericksen said. “For more than four months, the permanent residents have been under what amounts to house arrest. Yet after one of the most extensive testing programs we have seen in our state, not a single case of COVID-19 has been detected at Point Roberts.”
Border traffic has declined 97 percent at the Point Roberts crossing. While some travel still is permitted, it is confined to essential truck traffic, persons traveling for medical reasons, and a handful of other exemptions. The only other options for residents wishing to travel to U.S. destinations for shopping and other purposes are chartered boats and a once-a-week commercial flight.
The restrictions have turned a 45-minute drive from Point Roberts to the border crossing at Blaine into an arduous and costly journey few are able to undertake. Meanwhile, deliveries to local stores have been spotty, and the decrease in customer traffic threatens their survival.
Ericksen joined 42nd District lawmakers last week in a letter to the state’s congressional delegation, urging more flexible rules for travel. “On a national scale, this might seem a small problem, but for the people and property owners of Point Roberts it is devastating,” Ericksen said. “I’ve been in contact with our congressional delegation and am working to raise this issue with the Trump Administration. This is a unique situation for our area, and we need rules that make sense for the people who live here.”
Local officials have been trying to flag the issue to the attention of the U.S. and Canadian governments since the border restrictions were imposed March 21. Other letters have been signed by the mayors of Whatcom County and by the Point Roberts fire chief, who points out that firefighting efforts could be disrupted. Two online petitions from Point Roberts residents and Canadian property owners have garnered thousands of signatures, but border authorities have shown no willingness to relent.
Ericksen noted that a pass program has been devised for American motorists wishing to drive to Alaska through Canadian territory. A similar solution might be devised for residents and property owners in the Point Roberts area, he said.