The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to study the feasibility of imposing a fee for crossing an international border via car, bus, train or on foot.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens. D-Plattsburgh, said the study is not needed because common sense says a fee would inhibit tourism and cross-border commerce.
Owens announced his opposition to the proposed study on Monday, and said, if necessary, he will introduce legislation to prevent it.
“We’re trying to attract Canadians down throughout the district. That’s not going to help,” Owens said in a telephone interview on Monday.
The Department of Homeland Security included a proposal for the study in its 2014 departmental budget request.
The study would assess “the feasibility and cost” of establishing a fee for vehicles and pedestrians that cross the northern and southwest borders by land, including by commercial passenger bus and by commercial rail.
The study would be completed within nine months of the time the legislation authorizing it is enacted.
Details such as how much the fee might be, how it would be implemented or whether the revenue would be used to improve border crossings or add staff were not available on Monday.
Sy Lee, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, would not discuss the proposal or respond to specific questions from The Post-Star.
He released a “background” statement from the department that border crossing fees are collected through air carriers and cruise lines for people who cross the border by plane or ship, but no fee is charged for crossing on land.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been looking at expanding the fee, and proposed the study.
Owens said “some rational basis” exists for fees on air and cruise ship travelers because of circumstances that do not apply to land travelers.
“Particularly as it relates to air travel, you are getting a benefit from paying a fee, and that is you are pre-cleared in Canada to land in the United States. There is no such arrangement that occurs along the land borders,” he said.
The fee for cruise ship passengers pays for a crew to meet the ship when it comes into port.
“So what you’re paying for when you come in by sea is the convenience of not waiting for a customs official to come to you,” he said.
Regional business and government leaders have long advocated for staffing increases and capital improvements at the Champlain border crossing, north of Plattsburgh, to expedite the crossing process.
Owens said it does not appear revenue from the fee would go toward additional staffing or capital improvements.
“I think this is just a real bad attempt at trying to find a revenue source that is going to have a more negative impact on the economy than it should. So I’m unabashedly opposed to this,” he said.
A recent survey showed that about 187,000 overnight Canadian tourists visited Warren County in 2012, accounting for 5.5 percent of hotel and campground visitors, said Warren County Tourism Director Catherine Johnson.
Johnson said a border crossing fee could hurt tourism.
“New fees are not generally accepted very well by the traveling public,” she said. “Certainly we would be concerned about that because we are seeing an influx of Canadian visitors here more recently.”
Owens said collecting a fee could slow down the crossing even more.
“The other issue that you have to take into account is, Who is going to collect this? Are you going to have an officer ... with a cash drawer?” he asked. “That, in and of itself, creates a significant number of logistical issues because you would have to have change every day. You’d slow down traffic. It is really a very impractical idea.”