OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday blasted the continued closure of the border between the United States and Canada and the toll it is taking on the Washington community of Point Roberts.
That Whatcom County community — which is connected by land to British Columbia — has been largely isolated from the U.S. mainland after the two countries closed their land border last spring to nonessential crossings to control the spread of COVID-19.
“I’d like to see the border open tomorrow, particularly [for] vaccinated people, and I see no reason we can’t do that,” Inslee said during the regularly scheduled news conference on the state’s response to the pandemic.
“And I’m disappointed that the federal government has not been able to agree to reopen this border, I’m egregiously disappointed,” Inslee said.
The governor added that he has “expressed that position in a number of ways, as forcefully as I can.”
Inslee’s remarks come after a Point Roberts fire chief sent the governor — along with local and federal elected officials — an email blasting the continued closure of the border.
“Our only grocery store is starting to decrease shipments and will be closing on July 15th if the border does not open with Point Roberts,” wrote Christopher Carleton, chief of Whatcom County Fire District 5. “State or Federal assistance could help delay or stop this action.”
“If no action is taken, you will be responsible for the destruction of an entire US/Washington State community and place Point Roberts into a humanitarian crisis,” added Carleton, in an email shared by Inslee’s office.
Carleton requested a meeting with Inslee, Whatcom’s county executive and members of Washington’s congressional delegation.
In the news conference, Inslee said he would be speaking with the Point Roberts community “about nutritional needs and logistical needs” in the coming days.
But, “the governor cannot open this border legally,” said Inslee, and it will take the governments of both countries to make that happen.
The governor has raised the issue of Point Roberts several times, Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee wrote in an email.
That has included a letter sent earlier this month to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and letters to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in February and last August.
Inslee has also raised the issue with Premier John Horgan of British Columbia, according to Lee, who has relayed those concerns to Canada’s federal government.
On Wednesday, and reported by KING5, U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, sent her own letter to Blinken requesting an exemption for Point Roberts on the restrictions, which she said other border communities have gotten.
“Many small businesses in Point Roberts have already had to lay off workers, reduce hours of operations, or shut down entirely,” wrote DelBene, who also referenced the grocery store’s troubles.
In an interview Thursday, Carleton called on the Biden administration to open the border by Point Roberts so vaccinated Canadians who own property there can visit, “and help give a boost to our economy this summer.”
“We don’t need airdrops, we don’t need planes to bring us food,” said Carleton, who described his community as “over 80% vaccinated.”
“It’s two of the best countries in the world who have some of the most brilliant minds,” he added later. “That have shown the lack of capability to find a sensible solution for our exclave community.”