Monday, September 20, 2021 by McKenzie Delisle
PLATTSBURGH — The U.S. said Monday it will soften air travel restrictions for vaccinated individuals this fall, but further tightened its grip on land travel, extending restrictions at Can-Am ports for the 18th consecutive month and leaving officials enraged and perplexed once again.
“I’ve run out of words,” Clinton County Legislature Chair Mark Henry (R-Area 3, Chazy) said. “It’s unbelievable that this continues to drag with no plan. I think that’s as much disappointment as anything else. They seem to have a plan for air travel.
“You can jump on a plane, as long you’re vaccinated, and you can fly into the U.S., but yet you can’t do the same thing in a car at the land border. Why can I get on a plane in Montreal and fly to Syracuse or Plattsburgh or Miami, but I can’t get in a car and do the same thing? Why is that?
“It’s just hard to fathom, especially the no plan part.”
NOT A SURPRISE
Border restrictions were last extended in August with an expiration date of September 21. The latest extension will keep restrictions in place through October 21.
With no news of a reopening plan since last month, Henry said Monday’s announcement was anticipated.
“I can’t say that this was unexpected. It’s tragic, in some sense. Now we just wait another 30 days.”
Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Michael Cashman called the news “just more déjà vu of despair” and North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry Douglas reiterated a similar sentiment.
“There was sadly no reason to expect anything other than another U.S. extension of existing border restrictions, given the continued absence of any planning or preparations for any other course of action after a year and a half,” he said in a statement.
‘WHO IS STALLING?’
Though land travel from the U.S. into Canada was greenlighted in early August, allowing Americans to travel northbound by car, Henry noted the move had yet to be reciprocated by officials south of the northern border, despite continued access via plane and local officials.
“Every elected official I’m aware of, from our U.S. representatives right on down, all want this to be open,” Henry said. “And yet, it’s not. Who is stalling this? Who is saying no?”
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) and Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake) were among those calling on President Joe Biden and his administration.
“On the same day the Biden administration announced it will start to ease foreign travel restrictions with several countries, including China and Iran, President Biden still refuses to even establish a clear plan for reopening the northern border,” Stefanik said in a statement. “It’s past time for this administration to do its job, so members of the North Country can be reunited with families, tourism can resume, and small businesses no longer have to suffer from this administration’s failure.
“This prolonged closure has been devastating for our region, and New York deserves better.”
FALLEN ON DEAF EARS
“The announcement today that the United States-Canada border closure has been extended until October 21 while air travel for vaccinated foreign travelers will be permitted starting in November is disappointing and infuriating,” Assemblyman Jones chimed in with his own statement. “It makes absolutely no sense to allow people to fly to the United States when they are not permitted to cross by land.
“Why is air travel prioritized over land travel when so many people who live along the Canadian border who have been separated from their loved ones for over a year cannot afford the time or expense it takes to fly to the United States?
“Federal, state and local leaders across the North Country have continuously pushed the Biden administration to reopen the land border between the United States and Canada but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Reopening the land border between the United States and Canada needs to be prioritized and I will not stop advocating for the border to reopen until proper action is taken.”
‘WILL NOT JOIN SILENCE’
Douglas said the lack of parity between the nations broke all past practices and was continuing to damage “the most special economic and social relationship in the world.”
“There is simply no reason why we haven’t even taken modest steps such as expansion of current essential categories to support families and more business travel, other than an utter federal abandonment of its responsibilities,” the chamber president continued.
“Rather than receiving the priority attention our Canadian connection warrants, the U.S. government seems to have placed the northern border on the national priority list somewhere below U.S. rutabaga exports to Greenland. And as for reasonable answers about continued inaction, it seems the U.S. has hired the spirit of French mime Marcelle Marceau,” he added.
“But we and our partners will not join the federal silence. The stakes are too high and the public policy malpractice too great.”
NOT JUST ECONOMY
With the fall season officially beginning this week, Henry recognized a second full summer with no Canadian traffic to area restaurants and shops.
“It’s so hard on the local businesses, all of them,” he said. “It just makes it very disappointing for all of us. It’s not just the economy. It’s the friends and neighbors that cross back and forth.”
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