Moves to sections
Frustration caused by the extended closure of the Canadian border to Americans was expressed before, during and after a roundtable held here Tuesday by U.S. Reps. Pete Stauber and Michelle Fischbach.
The border was closed due to COVID-19 to all but essential traffic in mid-March, with Canada Border Services Agency announcing extensions to the closure month after month. The latest extension by the Canadian government to the closure said the border will remain closed until at least April 21.
Fischbach and Stauber, representing Minnesota ‘s 7th and 8th congressional districts, said they would take what they heard Tuesday back to Washington. Stauber is a member of the Canada-United States Interparliamentary Group, created prior to the pandemic to exchange information and promote better understanding between U.S. and Canadian legislators on common programs and concerns. Stauber was appointed because a variety of industries within Minnesota, and Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, rely heavily on traffic between Canada and the U.S.
Stories about the impact of the closure on businesses, families, economies and life in general along the border abounded on stage at Backus Community Center as well as in an audience of about 45 people.
On stage with the lawmakers were 10 people representing the impact of the closure along the border, with as far west as Roseau and far east as Grand Portage.
Attending virtually were members of Canadian Parliament Marcus Powlowski, who represents Thunderbay-Rainy River, and Dan Mazier, who represents western Manitoba areas.
They said Canadians and their communities are experiencing the same losses and hardships as a result of the closure. Mazier said he believed the restrictions to travel would be loosened and eventually lifted as more Americans and Canadians are vaccinated.
“I encourage Minnesota to encourage Biden to send more vaccines to Canada to speed up reopening the border with Canada,” Mazier said, noting the American vaccination rollout is outpacing Canada’s.
He also encouraged a developing a coordinated plan between the two nations to safely and gradually reopen the border.
Powlowski said, for Canada, the answer is going to be proof of vaccination.
“We are rapidly vaccinating vulnerable Canadians and a good deal of the population,” he said. “When we have Americans showing they are vaccinated with the vaccine, which greatly decreases the spread, we will open the border, because the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.”
Either way, both MPs said they, too, want the border opened, but said safety to Canadians is paramount.
Many in the audience had their own stories, often surrounding family they have not seen and/or lake cabins they have not visited in more than a year.
One man said his cabin was just feet from Canadian border, adding he and his family normally travel from U.S. shore to the cabin without getting out elsewhere or talking to any one, other than the local Ontario game warden from time to time, he said.
He had the property loaded on the phone to show just how close his cabin is to being in the United States.
While he understands Canadians’ concerns about the roller coaster of positive cases the United States, and Minnesota, has experienced, and takes hope in those fears lessening as more vaccine is administered on both sides of the border. He said he was about five weeks past his second dose, he said.
With the Northwest Angle seeming to have the most dire impact, Lake of the Woods Tourism Director Joe Henry suggested an international travel corridor that could guide boats or vehicles through Canada and back into the United States and Minnesota’s most northern point, or even a GPS tracking to ensure no stopping in Canada.
Henry also urged the lawmakers to consider additional financial assistance for Northwest Angle businesses, who have suffered a larger loss of ability to do business.
Some asked Canadian officials to at the least set a date, so that reservations could be shifted, rather than monthly extensions that allow for no planning.
Paul Colson, an owner/operator outfitter on the Northwest Angle, said he planned to talk about how his sales tax collected in May, June, July totaled less than $3 last year.
Instead, he described the process it took for him to get to groceries while attending the roundtable, which required a negative test before returning home.
“As I sit here, I am thinking they’ve blown up my business and just took my home this morning,” he said, adding he’s about as connected to Canada as can be: his wife is Canadian, his kids have dual citizenship and his dog is from Canada.
“I cant get home tonight — there’s no ice to use, no water to use because we’re in meltdown,” he said, his voice growing tight with emotion. “That’s where I am at right now.”
Einarson said said the Falls airport has experienced a 90 percent reduction in business in the last 13 months, noting that in 2019 there were for 16,587 people enplaned; 2020 there were 5,489 people, and 45 percent of those passengers are Canadian.
Einarson said 90 percent of the revenue made at the airport is made in the 90 days of summer, with the vast majority of the traffic being Americans on their way to Canadian recreation and private property.
As people walked to their cars, some said they weren’t sure what was accomplished by the meeting, other than to raise awareness of the closure.
One man said he knows that none of the U.S. or Canadian officials taking part in the roundtable can open the border on their own, but he appreciated knowing at least they are talking about opening the border.
To say the weather has been strange in Borderland would be an understatement.
Along with having a relatively mild winter, the end of the season and introduction to spring has been dry, with little in the way of snow or rainfall.
The Falls had experienced some drought in March, only getting .36 inches of precipitation the entire month.
Such an arid climate has meant International Falls and the surrounding area had been at increased risk of fire hazards.
Meteorologist Patrick Ayd of the National Weather Service in Duluth said while such a dry climate isn't common in northern Minnesota, it's not unheard of either.
"Something like this has certainly happened before," he said. "Usually at this time we have a bit more snowpack, but there have been several times where we lose it earlier."
The lack of snow on the ground, Ayd said, is what has been largely fueling the dry weather and the fire hazard warnings Koochiching County has been under, though it's never easy to nail down a specific cause.
"That's really what has been driving our concerns with the fire hazards," he said. "If we look back into the last month or so, it's largely driven by pressure patterns over the Arctic, so it's hard to say why any one period can be this dry, but the biggest thing was the loss of the snowpack."
However, relief is just around the corner.
"We're actually starting to get into a more wet period," meteorologist Karen Eagle said. Forecasts now call for substantial rainfall into the end of the week.
While getting some rain on the ground will help ease the risk of fire, Ayd said it takes several factors to determine how at risk an area is.
"Weather plays a small component of it, and then the fields across an area play an important factor as well," he said. "It will certainly help at least ease some of those concerns, but something like this is analyzed by various land agencies like tribal lands, federal lands and state lands. They all play a role in determining what the fields are and where we stand in regards to fire danger."
Along with the dry weather, wind has been sweeping through Borderland, which Ayd said the arid climate has been helping create.
"Things in spring tend to be a bit more windy because our weather systems tend to be stronger," he said. "When things are dry, things can mix into the atmosphere and they are able to drag down some winds, which can make things a bit gusty."
The drought in International Falls comes on the heels of some record-breaking temperatures since the beginning of the year. Including:
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The 'community garden' concept may be expanded to allow Falls Hunger Coalition patrons to help themselves to fresh produce.
The idea was brought to the International Falls City Council Monday by Daniel McGonigle, Community Education director, who said Falls Hunger Coalition Director Ashley Hall and he had discussed the idea. They would seek a grant for expansion of the concept to create a garden where those in need could harvest the vegetables.
Mayor Harley Droba was quick to support the idea, and is expected to bring the idea to the city's next Land Use and Legislation Committee and to city department heads for input on locations and other details.
Droba said the committee will come up with a recommendation to the council about what site makes sense for the garden at the next council meeting.
The original Community Garden on Third Street was created in 2013 through the AGE to age organization, involved in crossing generational boundaries between the elder community and younger community.
Community Garden plots are rented and maintained by their respective renters. The flowers and produce grown in the gardens is not intended to be free to anyone; those who rent the plots expect to reap the fruits of their labor.
McGonigle said people have been helping themselves now and then because of a need that a different kind of garden could help address.
The garden would be similar to that on Third Street with raised beds, and would need access to water.
The council agreed on a 3-1 vote to purchase property at 801 Third Ave., the former Stock Tire location, at a negotiated price of $136,000.
Councilor Leon Ditsch voted no, and Councilor Walt Buller was absent.
The structure will be used to consolidate the Public Works Department, eventually onto one property, thereby making the department more efficient and freeing up storage space with the move.
Droba, acknowledging some public criticism of the plan, and asked Public Works Director Ted Brokaw to explain the motivation.
Brokaw said equipment is now in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and the various sites for equipment and staff require the department to "bounce all over town on projects," adding the department facilities are spread out too far, and not efficient.
He said he could not support spending money now to construct new public works facilities when the city's streets and other infrastructure need it.
"Stock Tire is not ideal, but I think it will work for us; the price is right and the location is ideal," he said.
The purchase price includes a hoist and other personal property Brokaw said would benefit the city.
Ditsch said the cost to renovate could be higher than expected, and he was not sure of the need.
The council also: