Washington state and British Columbia are objecting to a U.S. proposal to require passport checks at border crossings. Tourism officials fear visits...

OLYMPIA — Washington state and British Columbia are objecting to a U.S. proposal to require passport checks at border crossings.

Tourism officials fear visits between the two countries will drop, knocking a big hole in the regional economy, if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security begins enforcement on Jan. 1, 2007.

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell are drafting a joint letter to the agency expressing their concerns.

“We have to have security, there is no question about that,” Gregoire told The Herald of Everett. “On the other hand, can we have security to the point where we can really harm the economies?”

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Effect on tourism

Jarrod Agen, a Homeland Security spokesman, said the intent is not to crimp trade in the name of protecting citizens.

“Even the president himself has said he doesn’t want it to stifle flow at the border and affect the economy and trade,” he said.

There are indications, however, that the passport requirement would do just that.

A July report by the Canadian Tourism Commission predicts that 7.7 million fewer Americans would visit Canada in the three years after the change. Of those, 1.3 million would have been travelers to British Columbia.

The agency also estimated a drop of 3.5 million trips from Canada to the U.S.

The report even noted a decline this year as travelers without passports dropped their travel plans, thinking the law already had taken effect.

Only an estimated one-quarter of Americans have passports. Currently, photo identification and a birth certificate will get a traveler across the border.

Darrell Bryan, executive vice president and general manager of the Victoria Clipper tourism boats, said ridership into Canadian ports is down from last year, even as numbers have increased on routes wholly within Washington.

He said 17 percent of summer passengers surveyed said they wouldn’t make the trip if they were required to get a passport.

“Seventeen percent would put us out of business,” Bryan said.

“Illusion” of safety?

The passport requirement was recommended by the Sept. 11 commission. It requires citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, the Caribbean, and Central and South America to have passports when entering this country.

Enforcement would begin in 2007 for those traveling by air or sea, and one year later at land border crossings.

The proposal arrived with little debate or a showing that it would boost safety, said Ken Oplinger, head of the Bellingham-Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“I don’t know that requiring soccer moms to have passports will make us safer,” he said, noting that all of the 19 terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks had passports.

“It may only give us the illusion we’re safer.”