Local benefit from Olympics to outweigh costs

Published on Thu, Mar 5, 2009 by Marisa Willis

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Economic benefits to Whatcom County as a result of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver will likely outweigh any negative attention that might be generated from border congestion, said delegates at a border policy conference in Washington, D.C. last week.

Donald Alper, director of Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute (BPRI), which co-sponsored the event, said the conference enabled the federal government and the rest of the country to see the successful border solutions that have been devised in the Pacific Northwest.

“Sure border line-ups might be a possibility, particularly in the beginning and the end, but our studies indicate it will look more like a typical summer day rather than a typical winter day,” he said. “A lot of people are focusing on negatives, but I think having a spotlight on the region will affect it positively, and Blaine being on the border, it will naturally be a part of that spotlight.”

Alper added that if U.S. Customs and Border Protection is able to man all the booths like they have said they will, Blaine’s border crossings should handle the traffic.

“I’m not saying there won’t be line ups, but it won’t be a catastrophe,” he said.

Other benefits, he said, include increased tourism but also attracting highly-skilled individuals to Whatcom County when they realize the scenic beauty and quality of life here.

Those individuals, in turn, could help contribute to the area’s technology and information sectors, which tend to produce quality, liveable-wage jobs.

“We’re too hung up on the border being a disaster,” he said. “But assuming we’re just dealing with a huge event with the Olympics, drawing people from all over the world and if our infrastructure is going to be up to speed like they say, things won’t necessarily be all that bad.”

The “Border Challenges and Regional Solutions” conference focused on Canadian-American relations and noted the innovative strengths of communities on Whatcom County’s international borders.

“What we were trying to do is demonstrate how this particular region and corridor has done a better job than most border communities coming up with innovative ideas to making things better,” Alper said.
Governor Christine Gregoire was the keynote speaker and highlighted the effectiveness of Enhanced Drivers Licenses, which started in Washington State. The International Mobility and Trade Corridor (IMTC) initiative, which goes into effect June 1, will require all citizens to present a passport or equivalent document when entering the U.S. by land or sea.

Alper said Gregoire and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell have also established an exemplary relationship. He said the two have been working closely for more than a year and that extent of cooperation does not exist in other regions.

“If you’re looking for innovations and new ideas, not just fixing the border but making everything better in terms of the interaction and relationship between the two countries, you need to look at governors and premiers,” Alper said.

The conference was attended by more than 100 federal government and homeland security officials from the U.S. and Canada.

Alper’s presentation was based on BPRI research, which looks at different ways to measure border performance. The BPRI evaluates the NEXUS and FAST programs to project the successes and failures of future border solutions. Alper said although NEXUS enrollment continues to go up, few people take advantage of the low-risk traveler lane.

Hugh Conroy, IMTC project manager, also reported on current developments that have enhanced the mobility of the Interstate-5 corridor.“It’s always a challenge to bring a message to both national capitals that effective border crossing approaches can be developed at the regional level,” Conroy said. “Our efforts have definitely been recognized nation-wide.”

The conference, which coincided with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s recent mandate to review and assess all northern U.S. borders, also alerted the new presidential administration concerns of the Pacific Northwest.

“In order for economic prosperity to occur, our international relationship has to be healthy,” Alper said. “When you start making it difficult to cross the border that relationship starts to corrode.”

With the Olympic Games less than a year away, Alper said there are still border problems that need to be addressed. This will be the first time the Olympics have been held near an international border, and Alper said that poses a unique set of concerns.

The Northern Light reporter Tara Nelson contributed to this story.