Legislature(2015 - 2016)CAPITOL 106
04/09/2015 08:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS
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HJR 22-STEWART-HYDER BORDER HOURS 8:08:07 AM CHAIR LYNN announced the first order of business was HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 22, Urging the Canada Border Services Agency to keep the border between Hyder, Alaska, and Stewart, British Columbia, open 24 hours a day. 8:08:38 AM REPRESENTATIVE DAN ORTIZ, Alaska State Legislature, as prime sponsor, presented HJR 22. He said Hyder, Alaska, is a community of about 87 residents that sits [near the southern tip of the Southeast Alaska "panhandle,"] on the border of the United States and Canada. Just across the border is the Canadian community of Stewart, British Columbia (BC), which is home to approximately 487 residents. Prior to April 1, 2015, there was 24-hour access through the border in both directions. As of April 1, the border is closed from midnight to 8 a.m., as a result of a decision made by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). REPRESENTATIVE ORTIZ stated that the residents of Hyder rely on the community of Stewart for emergency services. The road also is the only evacuation route in the event of a tsunami or levy break. He noted that Senator Lisa Murkowski's office and his own office began working on the issue. He said he held a town meeting with residents of both communities [on March 28, 2015], where he heard further concerns. For example, a large part of Hyder's economy is based on tourism, particularly bear viewing, to which road access is necessary before 8 a.m. There is also an issue related to the access to mining, where Canadian workers must pass through Hyder and then back over the border to a Canadian mine, and access is needed during the hours the road is now closed. 8:11:55 AM REPRESENTATIVE ORTIZ said HJR 22 asks the Alaska State Legislature to put forward a resolution asking the CBSA to reopen the border on a 24-hour basis, and to do so in the best interest of the residents of both Hyder and Stewart. He noted that at the aforementioned meeting, there were many residents from Stewart present, as well as those in Hyder, to express concerns. He said the CVSA has long-term plans to make access available across the border by means of a camera that could read identification, but HJR 22 would provide 24-access across the border until that happens. 8:13:06 AM REPRESENTATIVE ORTIZ, in response to Chair Lynn, estimated that the drive from the Cassiar Highway to the border is about two hours. CHAIR LYNN asked if anyone had thought of moving the border station to the east side of Stewart so that residents of Hyder and Stewart could move back and forth without a border crossing. REPRESENTATIVE ORTIZ said he saw that idea in a letter from an organization, but said he was not sure where the CBSA or U.S. Customs officials would stand on that proposal. CHAIR LYNN indicated that that type of border was, at one point, used between Mexico and Arizona and California. He asked Mr. Ortiz if he knew the current status of the borders in those areas. REPRESENTATIVE ORTIZ answered no. 8:14:42 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER asked about Representative Ortiz' reference to a gate. REPRESENTATIVE ORTIZ explained that the gate that is used to close the border between Hyder and Stewart completely crosses the road. He said residents of Hyder who happened to be in Stewart past midnight would be "locked out" of their country. 8:15:32 AM CHAIR LYNN, after ascertaining no one further wished to testify, closed public testimony on HJR 22. 8:15:42 AM REPRESENTATIVE KELLER moved to report HJR 22 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. There being no objection, HJR 22 was reported out of the House State Affairs Standing Committee. CHAIR LYNN told the sponsor he would like him to explore the possibility of getting the actual border station moved to the eastern side of Stewart. He suggested both Hyder and Stewart could pay for the cost of the move, which he ventured would not be too great.