In our off-and-on-again, and totally casual, study of traffic through the lesser ports of entry on the northern border, we have two new findings. As background, the traffic across that border has been severely curtailed by Covid-19 restrictions.
Sometimes, as reported earlier, the traffic through these ports is so low that the cost (to the taxpayer) of a single admission to the U.S. can be as high as $10,333. There were eight U.S. ports of entry that saw an average of two or fewer arriving persons a day in the month of July. These ports are open eight hours a day with one or two inspectors on duty at all times — an interesting, if dubious, investment of money and talent.
Finding No. 1. The last time we visited these data, the port at Ambrose, N.D., had the distinction of the highest unit cost per visitor. There were three arrivals in May, and this is where we found the $10,333 average cost per inspection.
Looking at the most recent U.S. Department of Transportation data, we found that the Ambrose port, getting 20 visitors in the month of September, had lost the booby prize to the port at Whitlash, Mont. It had one single arrival in the month of September, after a busy month of August when it checked five would-be entrants. Using the data we used before, that lone September inspection cost DHS about $31,000.
We earlier identified eight ports of entry on the northern border that had fewer than 60 arrivals a month in July; all eight continued to have fewer than 60 a month in September, though traffic was up a hair.
So the award for the softest inspection jobs in the entire system goes to the (probably two people) who work in Whitlash, which is, we are told, 60 miles east of the somewhat busier port of entry at Sweet Grass, Mont.
Finding No. 2. Our other bit of news is that while the Americans answer the phones at these ports of entry, or at least did on Sunday, the Canadians do not. We Googled the ports at Whitlash, and the one across the border at Aden, Alberta. Each had a listed telephone number.
We called the U.S. port first, and after a recorded message that might be used for a large operation, were given the option of speaking to an officer. We were connected to a woman with a pleasant voice who would not answer our first question: Have you seen any traffic today? In other ports in the past, we often got an answer to that question. Then I asked the next question, knowing full well that I would not get a reply — "How many of you are on duty today?" She said she could not tell me, and that I should call her supervisor in Sweet Grass.
The phone number listed for the Canadian counterpart at Aden leads to a nation-wide recording on the rules for entering Canada; at the end of that explanation, one is given the option of talking to an officer, in this case stationed thousands of miles away in New Brunswick. I asked him about traffic at Aden, and he told me to follow a process like the American Freedom of Information Act system; I then asked if he could connect me with Aden, and he said he could not.
So two people, doing similar work on different sides of a sleepy border, had something to talk about at dinner that night: the nosy guy who called them from Arlington, Va.