MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Just days after residents along a tiny U.S.-Canada border station successfully lobbied the federal government to abandon its plan to expand the crossing by seizing a dairy farmer's land, some people are complaining they had no idea the port would close altogether.
The Department of Homeland Security announced last week that it would close the little-used Morses Line border crossing to avoid an expansion that would take a prime hay field from a Vermont farmer. But residents on both sides of the border say they rely on being able to cross easily there between the two countries.
"I never thought that it would get to this point," Franklin Fire Chief Justin Rainville said of the decision to close the port, which averages two cars an hour. "It was my understanding they would fall back to what they have today. I never realized it was a do or close situation."
Rainville said first responders in both countries believe the crossing is needed.
Real Pelletier, mayor of the Quebec town of St. Armand, across the border from Morses Line, said he didn't learn of the plans to close the port until Saturday, two days after U.S. officials announced it. He said it would disrupt commerce between the two communities and emergency services.
Without Morses Line, driving to the next closest port of entry could take 30 to 45 minutes, he said.
"It's normal if they close the American border, the Canadian border is going to close, too," Pelletier said. "For us, it's like a way of living. For us, the border is not an obstacle. We go back and forth. We just feel like home."
But Brian Rainville, whose parents operate the dairy farm on the border that would have been hurt by plans to expand the port, said possible closure of the border post had been discussed for months. Last month, DHS held a public hearing at the Franklin Town Hall where everyone was allowed to speak.
"I don't understand how people who live across the road can claim to be left out," said Brian Rainville, a relative of Fire Chief Justin Rainville. "The idea that people have been disenfranchised is offensive to me."
About 150 Franklin residents attended the hearing run by Customs and Border Protection, the DHS agency responsible for border crossings. Most spoke against expanding the facility.
Last week DHS announced it would close the Morses Line crossing rather than upgrade the 76-year-old customs house, which would have required taking prime land from the farm operated by Brian Rainville's parents, putting it at risk of going under.
DHS spokesman Clark Stevens said Monday the closing process would take a year.
"Without the necessary infrastructure upgrades, (Morses Line) fails to meet the national security standards of today, leaving closure as the only appropriate course of action," Stevens said.