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Border town leaders hope for economic recovery as port of entry access is restored

The Manitoba Royal Canadian Mounted Police sent a tweet just before 12:30 p.m. stating that Highway 75 is "clear."

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Dave Carlson, the reeve of the municipality of Emerson-Franklin in Manitoba, Canada.
Joe Bowen / Grand Forks Herald
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EMERSON, Manitoba — Access to the Pembina-Emerson border crossing has been restored nearly a week after a blockade of trucks and agriculture equipment cut off access to one of the area's busiest ports of entry. But leaders on both sides of the border are worried about the economic impact the blockade had.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Manitoba tweeted just before 12:30 p.m. Wednesday that protesters, who were against COVID-19 vaccine requirements from Canadian and U.S. authorities for truckers, had been cleared from the area and that the highway had been cleared and “full access” to the Emerson Port of Entry was restored.

It ended nearly a week long blockade that began on Feb. 10 when protesters used trucks, farm equipment and other vehicles to block all four lanes of Highway 75 just north of the border. Other than some agricultural and emergency vehicles, all cross-border traffic was cut off for six days. The Manitoba RCMP announced earlier this week that it had reached a resolution with protesters to peacefully dissolve the blockade.

Blockade affects businesses

The blockade was preceded by a “slow roll” of semi truck drivers who objected to the vaccination requirement to cross from one country into another. Beginning late last month, truckers made a point of clogging the highway leading to the Pembina-Emerson crossing. Both towns rely on cross-border commerce, but the slowdown was a nuisance more than anything, according to Herald interviewees.

The blockade, which began last week, is another story. Protesters, proportionally fewer of whom were driving semi trucks, only shifted to allow police and other first responders, border patrol workers and vehicles carrying livestock, which could be harmed by lengthened exposure to the prairie cold, to cross from one country into another.

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Trucks and farm equipment lined up on Feb. 10 on the Canadian side of the Pembina-Emerson border crossing in protest of U.S. and Canadian requirements for truck drivers to be vaccinated against to cross the border.
Submitted photo / Yness Boily

“The slow roll really didn’t cause us to lose money, but the blockade sure did,” Jeff French, the CEO of Runnin’ Red, told the Herald on Wednesday. His company ships goods, mostly commercial, across the border and throughout the Winnipeg, Manitoba, area. “Just couldn’t get through.”

On Wednesday, French’s company was able to get a shipment of safety gear, winter clothing, exhaust parts, and other goods through the port of entry north of Lancaster, Minnesota, which is about 21 miles by road from the Pembina crossing. That truckload was the first he was able to get into the United States since the blockade began last week, French said. He estimated it would take about a week to get his business running normally again.

Additionally, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said earlier this week that around $73 million in trade was being impacted every day the border was closed at Emerson, news outlets reported in Canada.

About 2 miles south in Pembina, North Dakota, the two gas stations that sit next to I-29 saw dramatic declines in business during the blockade, according to Mayor Michael Fitzgerald. Business at other companies in town also reportedly slowed to the point where some employees worried about furloughs.

“I don’t think the mandate is necessary, personally,” Fitzgerald said. “But, in all actuality, did they make a difference besides hurt the economy?”

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Michael Fitzgerald, the mayor of Pembina, N.D.
Joe Bowen / Grand Forks Herald

Dave Carlson, the reeve — think “mayor” — of Emerson-Franklin municipality, said he doesn’t believe in the blockade because it hurt people and businesses, but he noted that Canadians have a right to protest. He said he felt the protesters’ grievances had merit, but objected to the manner in which they aired them. He also noted that the vast majority of Canadians are already vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Now we’re down to this hardcore of maybe 10 or 15 percent,” Carlson said. “I don’t think you can move on stigmatizing people….The divisions up here are distressing to everyone.”

While the Pembina-Emerson crossing is now clear and accessible, those trying to enter Canada through the Neche-Gretna port experienced long delays over the past several days.

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A Herald reporter entering Canada waited for nearly four hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic at the Neche-Gretna entry point. The reporter got into the Neche line before the Emerson Port of Entry was cleared (around 12 p.m.) and got through the border shortly before 3:30 p.m.

Pembina Valley Online reported over the weekend that the blockade had greatly affected the amount of traffic at the Neche-Gretna crossing.

Stuart Symington, mayor of Neche, which is located 1 mile south of the border, told the news organization that trucks had been backed up at all four major entrances to the community over the weekend.

Sgt. Paul Manaigre, Manitoba RCMP media relations officer, said in a Wednesday morning press conference that ongoing dialogue through the course of the protests resulted in a peaceful resolution with protesters. Unlike the protests at the border crossings in Coutts, Alberta, and the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Alberta, no arrests were made in Emerson. He said that not arresting protesters or issuing tickets was part of the agreement with demonstrators to end the blockade.

“It would have made absolutely no sense just going in, perhaps making arrests and issuing tickets, we probably could have had others just take their place,” said Manaigre.

Related Topics: U.S.-CANADIAN BORDER
Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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