A BC Ferries vessel travels in the distance past Point Roberts, Wash., on Tuesday March 13, 2012. Point Roberts is part of the mainland United States but not physically connected to it, to reach the community by land one must pass through Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

U.S.-Canada border closure hurts Washington state town

Point Roberts is only accessible by land from Canada

The border closure between Canada and the United States has severely impacted Point Roberts, Washington, which is landlocked from the rest of the country.

The extended coronavirus-induced border closure shut down two border crossings for the town of about 1,300 people, who must commute 25 miles through Canada to get to the rest of Washington state.

“We really need that border open to survive,” said Tamra Hansen, who owns the Saltwater Cafe in Point Roberts.

The economy still depends on the flow of people and resources to and from the border, which closed in March and will remain closed through at least Sept. 21, KING-TV reports.

“I rely on approximately 90% of my business from the Canadians, that come from the seasonal people,” Hansen said. “And we make our money in the summer to get through the winter.”

There is no regular ferry or air service to Point Roberts. There have been no confirmed coronavirus cases reported in the town.

In 2019, 1.4 million people crossed the border into Point Roberts. So far this year, there have been just 217,000 visitors.

Gov. Jay Inslee penned a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last Friday addressing these concerns. Inslee cited in his letter the need for a “practical solution to this issue” and emphasized “unique hardships” faced by Point Roberts residents.

It followed a similar letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Canada co-written by the state’s Senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and two other Washington state congresspeople.

The city was created because of a quirk in the Oregon Treaty of 1846 between the United Kingdom and the United States. The two countries agreed to settle their border dispute by dividing their territories in the Pacific Northwest along the 49th parallel. But, that left the small area of Point Roberts on the southern tip of the Tsawwassen peninsula in American control.

Darryl Marquette, an employee at TSB Shipping in Point Roberts, says the shipping company has had boxes meant for Canada backlogged for months because of the border closures.

Residents like Brian Calder, a longtime resident who worked as a city councillor in Vancouver, have advocated for relief, saying that citizens of Point Roberts should be given an exemption to cross the border.

“Businesses here are down 80% — down 80%!” said Calder. “They can’t survive through this winter. Like, it’s not possible. I’m really pessimistic about the recovery here.”

Canada recently ironed out a plan to allow those in Alaska to cross the border at five specific ports using car placards to identify themselves.

Hansen worries, though, that the efforts of its citizens and lawmakers will be futile.

“All the other restaurants have closed down, the golf course is closed,” Hansen said. “Quite honestly, I probably should have just closed.”

The number of coronavirus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

ALSO READ: Metal fence erected along U.S.-Canadian backroad border amid COVID ‘loophole’ meet-ups

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