Stuck at the Border, Point Roberts Residents May Get This Help Getting to the Mainland

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Shopping or going to medical appointments is difficult for Point Roberts residents with the Canadian border closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, so government officials and a private business are working on a solution.

At the Tuesday, Aug. 11, Port of Bellingham meeting, commissioners directed staff to create a plan to start a passenger-only ferry service between Point Roberts and Blaine as soon as possible. Port staff is also working with the Whatcom Transportation Authority to create a transit connection at the Blaine Harbor so those residents could travel to other parts of Whatcom County.

San Juan Cruises has offered the use of one of its boats, most likely the 50-foot Salish Sea, to handle the trips, said owner Drew Schmidt

For the WTA, there are some options that could make this work, said Maureen McCarthy, WTA's community relations and marketing manager. The WTA's current regular service in the Blaine area is a possibility, or possibly a zone service, which is what they had in place for Point Roberts residents before the pandemic. During that zone service, Point Roberts residents would be shuttled to the WTA's Cordata Station in Bellingham.

The port has not yet established a timeline on establishing this service, but it is considered a priority, said spokesman Mike Hogan.

At the port commission meeting there was a discussion about who would foot the bill for the ferry service, which Executive Director Rob Fix said could reach $30,000 to $50,000 a month if it is used twice a day, two days a week. The commissioners appeared to agree with the idea of starting the ferry service while also seeking financial assistance, possibly asking for some federal money allocated to Whatcom County for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fix noted the expense could be much lower if the service isn't used as much as expected; it could also end quickly if Canada grants an exemption to Point Roberts residents.

The 1,500 or so full-time residents in Point Roberts have always had to make adjustments when it comes to travel, with water on three sides of the community and the Canadian border to the north. Since the COVID-19 pandemic closed the border to non-essential travelers in March, residents have basically been cut off from the rest of Whatcom County. By car, Point Roberts residents need to go through two border crossings to get to Blaine.

Canada and the U.S. recently extended the border restrictions for nonessential travel to Sept. 21.

Whatcom County Fire District 5 Chief Chris Carleton recently told King 5 News that residents are lately finding it more difficult to cross the border even for essential trips such as medical appointments, as border agents ask for proof of the trip's purpose. There is a grocery store in Point Roberts, but Carleton told King 5 that sometimes delivery delays can cause shortages.

The community, along with some of the U.S. congressional legislators representing Washington state, has been urging the Canadian government to ease restrictions for residents. While sympathetic to their plight, British Columbia Premier John Horgan remains skeptical about how the exemption would work, adding that it was a federal government decision, according to a report on CTV News report on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

At the port meeting there was optimism expressed by the commissioners and Fix that something could be worked out with the border exemption but officials wanted to proceed with the ferry plan in case it didn't or took longer than expected.

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