Dreaded food crisis on border-isolated Washington Peninsula as only grocery stores falter as they close

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A local fire chief warns of a looming “humanitarian crisis” on the Point Roberts Peninsula in northwest Washington state. It’s a strange situation brought on by a supermarket losing money and pandemic restrictions on crossing the Canada-U.S. Border.

The owner of the only grocery store in the Point Roberts enclave said it was excluded and expected to close around July 15, unless the international border fully reopens or his business receives a bailout from government emergency. The supermarket depends on Canadian visitors and second home owners for profit, and these buyers have not been able to come for 15 months.

“Now that I see that there is absolutely no end in sight, I can’t do this anymore,” said Ali Hayton, owner of Point Roberts Marketplace. “I cannot continue financially to subsidize all of this on my own. “

The nearly empty parking lot at the start of what should be a busy weekend is a big reason why Point Roberts, Washington’s only supermarket is about to close.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

Hayton said she was losing over $ 30,000 a month by keeping the supermarket open. She said she received two small repayable payroll support loans from federal pandemic relief programs, but that money was used up within a week.

“I postponed the closure because people depend on me for food. People depend on me for their work, for their medical insurance. It’s absolutely the last thing I want to do,” Hayton said over the phone. from Point Roberts. “But once the wells go dry, the wells go dry. I can’t go into debt to try to solve a problem created by these two governments.”

Point Roberts is a geographic curiosity whose only land connection to the rest of the United States is through the suburbs of Vancouver, Canada. Community leaders argue that there is no longer any reason to restrict their crossing at the border given that almost everyone living on the five square mile peninsula is fully vaccinated.

By agreement of the US and Canadian federal governments in March 2020, the entire length of the northern border was closed to non-essential crossings in both directions to control the spread of the coronavirus.

As recently as last week, the Canadian government extended the ban on crossing the non-essential border by one month until July 21. The US Department of Homeland Security agreed to the extension, noting the Biden administration is holding talks on how to safely relax the restrictions.

Point Roberts Fire Chief Christopher Carleton made no effort in an email Monday aimed at instilling greater urgency to resolve the issue.

“Immediate action to open the Boundary Bay port of entry must be taken for my community,” Carleton wrote to the Canadian Consul, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s office and the state congressional delegation. “If no action is taken, you will be responsible for the destruction of an entire US / Washington state community and place Point Roberts in a humanitarian crisis.”

MP Suzan DelBene responded on Tuesday by saying she would continue to push U.S. and Canadian officials to reopen the border safely. On Wednesday, she wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking that Point Roberts be granted immediate exemption from current border crossing restrictions.

“This is unacceptable,” DelBene said in a tweet. “Point Roberts is a peninsula but the pandemic has turned it into an economic island. The United States and Canada must reopen the Point Roberts border to avoid a worsening of the crisis.”

DelBene, Washington Senator Patty Murray and other members of Congress from northern states have introduced measures to provide targeted economic relief to struggling businesses in border communities, but none of these bills have done so. subject to committee hearings.

Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce President Brian Calder said community leaders had “begged and pleaded for help” from elected officials on both sides of the border for months, but every letter and petition does no change.

“I understand that Canada wants to keep its residents safe, but what I find so frustrating is that Point Roberts is not a threat to Canadians,” Calder said in a statement describing the peninsula as a community. confined which “has been reduced to a ghost town.”

“Our full vaccination rate is almost 85%,” Calder said. “I’m sure there are very few communities that can claim this success.”

The resident population of Point Roberts has fallen to less than 1,000 since the start of the pandemic, according to Calder and Carleton’s best estimates. In a typical summer, visitors and second home owners drawn to the beaches, sea breezes, marina and golf course could increase the population to 5,000 or more.

Point Roberts is home to a handful of restaurants open during limited hours and there is a gas station convenience store, none of which replace a supermarket. Along the northern border, commercial trucks, parcel services, and certain categories of business travelers are allowed to cross the international border to facilitate trade and do things like business resupply and parcel delivery.

Canadian leaders, from the Prime Minister of British Columbia to the Ambassador to the United States to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have indicated that they are aware of the pressure on Point Roberts. But the declared agreement did not translate into any exception for the small enclave.

At a press conference outside his Ottawa residence on Tuesday, Trudeau said a gradual opening of the border was underway “in the coming weeks.” But concerns about the possible spread of new vaccine-resistant coronavirus variants urge caution.

“I understand how difficult and frustrating it is for some people, but we know that reopening too quickly or recklessly would lead to a resurgence that may well force us to go back into lockdown, to shut down again. economy, and nobody wants that, ”Trudeau said.

Last week, Trudeau said the border reopening would begin when 75% of eligible Canadians receive a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 20% will be fully immunized, measures that have now been achieved. Trudeau government ministers then expanded on the remarks by specifying that 75% of Canadians should be “fully vaccinated” before allowing tourists and non-citizen business travelers to enter freely.

Earlier this week, the Public Health Agency of Canada announced a limited first step in easing. Fully vaccinated Canadian citizens, residents and others who already have the right to enter Canada – and who test negative for COVID-19 – will be exempt from two weeks of quarantine upon their return home after July 5. This could be of some use in Point Roberts where a good number of local residents have dual citizenship. But attempting to cross the border just for a grocery run still looks likely to end in failure.



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