OLYMPIA — As the housebound multitudes get out to the coasts and beaches for vacation season after more than a year of pandemic lockdowns, Point Roberts remains the unlucky outlier.
A Whatcom County community that is connected by land to Canada, in British Columbia, Point Roberts has been left mostly isolated since spring 2020. That was when the U.S. and Canada closed their land borders to curb the spread of COVID-19.
That has left Canadians who own homes in the community shut out for a second summer now, which is the season when businesses there make their money. And time is running out to change that, according to local leaders and elected officials who met there Friday.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, visited Point Roberts for a meeting with community members and made stops at some business. Joining them were state Reps. Sharon Shewmake and Alicia Rule, and Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu. Inslee flew in to Point Roberts while others were able to travel via land for the trip with permission from the Canadian government.
Business owners “talked about the challenges to scale up again,” DelBene said in an interview after the visit. “Without a lot of people in Point Roberts right now, it takes time to rehire, in order to make enough money this summer.”
Christopher Carleton, chief of Whatcom County Fire District 5, said he appreciated having the elected officials there Friday, which he said was “very valuable” and allowed them to see the disproportionate effects of the border restrictions.
Normally with summer residents and visitors, at this point in the year, “we’d have close to 5,000 people in our community, and right now we’re looking at maybe 900,” said Carleton. “Today, they got to see how desolate Point Roberts is.”
Carleton last month sent an email to Inslee — along with local and federal elected officials — criticizing the border’s continued closure.
After that email, Inslee approved the use of $100,000 from a reserve fund to help the community’s sole grocery store, which has been at risk of closing amid the border closure. Officials made a stop Friday to that store, the Point Roberts International Marketplace.
The governor and others “heard from about 30 residents” in the meeting, wrote Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee in an email. “We heard consistently that the lack of Canadian visitors has been very difficult for the community.”
The decision to keep the border closed is made by the federal governments. In June, Canadian officials extended the restrictions for nonessential travel through July 21. It remains to be seen whether Canada will extend the closure further.
In an interview Friday, Carleton had his own solution to pitch.
“Really what we’re asking for is to be the perfect place to have a pilot program, an opening of the border,” said Carleton, at least for Canadian residents who have homes there.
His community doesn’t pose much of a threat to the United States, Carleton added, since “You can’t drive anywhere else once you get here.”
And he called on President Joe Biden to help make that happen.
“The U.S. has to make a decision, along with the Biden administration,” said Carleton. “To not allow U.S. communities to be devastated by Canadian decisions.”
Inslee, DelBene and others have written a series of letters to U.S. and Canadian officials and raised the troubles of Point Roberts in conversations.
“I have had no commitments,” said DelBene. “But everyone I have talked to knows about Point Roberts.”