MONTPELIER -- A federal Department of Homeland Security proposal to study charging a fee for people entering the United States by land from Canada and Mexico is being criticized by some members of Congress and residents from the Northeast who say a fee would stymie cross-border business and trips to visit family and friends.
Different fees currently are collected from travelers entering the country by air, land, or sea. The federal agency proposes a study of a fee on land travel from Canada and Mexico as a way to offset the costs of providing border protection.
Bill Stenger, president of Vermont’s Jay Peak resort located a few miles south of the Canadian border, said he gets 55 percent of his business from Canada.
"It’s just stupid," Stenger said of the proposal. "We know that Canada is our biggest trading partner and why in the world would you insult your partner to charge admission to come to your place and spend money."
U.S. Reps. Peter Welch of Vermont and Bill Owens of New York, both Democrats, are collecting signatures on a letter opposing the study to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
"The imposition of such a toll would act as a barrier to the greater economic integration that we seek, and is the absolute last thing we should be doing to grow our economy. It would be a waste of government resources to even study the flawed idea," the letter says.
The study is mentioned in the department’s 2014 spending proposal; an amount is not specified.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, sent a letter Thursday to the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, and is hoping to get other border-state senators to join in opposing the study.
"For many border community residents, crossing the border is a way of life in order to access essential services, travel to their jobs, to shop and dine, to attend church, and to visit family and friends," said Collins, who grew up in Maine’s Aroostook County along the Canadian border.
Vermont U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, and Bernie Sanders, an independent, have long pushed to make it as easy as possible for people to cross the border by land.
"Imposing a crossing fee would be a burden on those who travel frequently for business and leisure, create a financial disincentive for travel and tourism to the United States, including Vermont, and encourage the Canadians to retaliate with their own crossing fee," Leahy said. "Furthermore, CBP officers are there to protect our country, not to collect tolls. It’s a bad idea all the way around."