State ports getting $77 million infusion

Helena Independent Record

by John Doran

Montana’s border ports are set to receive approximately $77 million in stimulus money, a funding infusion that could greatly impact border security and commerce with Canada.

U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus on Friday afternoon announced the appropriation, which is plugged in the federal stimulus bill via the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The border funding is in addition to the nearly $1 billion Montana is already receiving from the federal stimulus plan.

Baucus chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and Tester sits on the Senate Homeland Security Committee as well as the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee.

Tester, who in his first two years has made border security one of his highest priorities, particularly along the 545-mile stretch of Montana’s border with Canada, told the Independent Record Friday he’s excited about the additional funding for Montana’s ports of entry.

“It’s another set of projects that’s good for Montana and good for the nation,” Tester said.

The $77.4 million will be allocated to five of the state’s 14 official ports of entry. How the money is spent will be determined by the individual U.S. Customs and Border Protection departments at each of the Montana stations, Tester said, but will likely be spent on infrastructure improvements.

Though the final amount won’t be finalized until the contracts are awarded, Tester spokesperson Aaron Murphy said, the breakdown is:

Scobey: $14,969,565
Wild Horse: $15,869,565
Del Bonita: $16,469,565
Morgan: $14,469,565
Whitetail: $15,469,565
FEMA emergency food and shelter: $231,335.

Baucus also noted these funds will benefit Montanans, especially those living and working along the Hi-Line.

“This is good news for all of Montana and especially for communities across the northern tier,” Baucus said in a press release. “I helped write the Jobs Bill because it’s a smart way to create good-paying jobs and turn our economy around, and I’m glad to see that funding is going to good projects like ports of entry along our northern border.”

Tester, a farmer from Big Sandy, most recently toured the border last June, spending particular time in Scobey to hear the needs of the border patrol agents there.

He said this funding will be especially important for the smaller border stations. Scobey, for example, has a contaminated well and safety concerns for the border patrol agents working there, he said.

“Scobey, as many of these ports are, is in dire need of improvement and rebuilding,” Tester said. “It is just flat outdated and needs to be rebuilt.”

Same goes for other ports of entry along the border, which is why $14 million to $16 million will make a significant contribution on two fronts, he said.

“It’s important to get them up to snuff for security, number one, and second because it’s good for commerce,” Tester said.

“This was exactly why I voted for the Jobs Bill. Investing in these ports strengthens our homeland security and increases our commercial opportunities, and we’re going to create some jobs for these ports.”