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Boaters Endure Three Hour Wait in the Hot Sun

August 12, 2012

It was not a beautiful day on the lake for Canadians and Americans trying to enter or re-enter the United States recently. People have had to wait up to three hours for customs officials to check them in. Photo by Christopher Roy

NEWPORT - Several people are upset about having to wait one to three hours to check in with U.S. Customs at the Newport City dock over the August 4th weekend.
Those traveling in to the United States on Lake Memphremagog must go through inspection first. The city dock is a port of entry and those checking in do so by a phone that sits on an outside wall at the dock. American citizens and Canadians wanting to come into Newport had to wait in line near the phone for a U.S. Customs agent to check them in.
State Senator Vincent Illuzzi called the long wait “unacceptable.”
“I will introduce a resolution or take whatever action I can. I will not hesitate," he said.
Illuzzi said that Newport is trying to bring Canadians in and that is no way to treat them. Friday, he contacted Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials but has yet to receive a response. Illuzzi said this is not the first complaint he has heard regarding long waiting times on the lake, but the first one in writing with enough detail to track the incident.
In a letter to CBP officials, Newport City Mayor Paul Monette wrote: "I fully understand the importance of protecting our borders, but a two to three hour wait time is unacceptable in my opinion and we as a country need to welcome visitors, especially from Canada." Monette said that at a previous meeting with CBP officials it was hinted that CBP does not care about the local economy.
Illuzzi heard about this comment through others and responded. “Those in the federal government at times forget that the working people are paying their salaries.”
While the group of people waited at the dock, customs agents showed up and everyone was temporarily relieved until one agent said they were not there to check them in. The agents arrested someone and left, according to one of the U.S. citizens waiting, Katie Boyd Wawrzyniak.
Wawrzyniak was travelling by boat with her children and family members who live on the shores of Lake Memphremagog. The group had gone up to Magog, Que. for the day and upon returning encountered the line at the check in point.
“It was embarrassing and so awful,” Wawrzyniak said in an interview Sunday. “I will not be making that trip again,” she said, after having to wait with her small children. She said there were no water or snacks available for purchase, and no awning to provide shade. All were forced to wait in 90 degree heat in full sun.
Wawrzyniak said she found her and her family spending much of their time trying to apologize to Canadians and trying to help them feel comfortable while they waited.
“I know how much Newport needs the tourism and this situation seemed such a shame.”
Wawrzyniak also called it detrimental to the international relationship Vermont shares with its Canadian neighbors to the north.
The check in time in Canada took minutes, she said.
Wawrzyniak acknowledges that U.S. security has changed since the 9/11 attacks, but wonders why law abiding citizens were forced to wait so long. Wawrzyniak heard several Canadians say that after checking in they would return to Canada instead of shopping and dining in Newport.
Monette was at an event near the dock that day and was contacted by many frustrated residents. Monette said in an interview Sunday that this is the longest wait time he has heard about, but he has heard about many others. The other wait times he estimated at anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes. Monette is concerned about the economy of Newport and doesn’t want difficulties at the border to prevent potential city guests from coming in.
Monette, Wawrzyniak, and others are writing letters of concern over the issue. Letters were sent to state and federal officials and CBP personnel.
Monette said that he heard back from a staffer at U.S. Senator Bernie Sander’s office who is looking into the issue.
Over this past weekend, a customs agent was working at the city dock to move things along, Monette said.
Wawrzyniak commended everyone in Newport for their supportive response including the Newport City Dock Master, the mayor, and others.
The Assistant Area Port Director in Derby Line was contacted Sunday, but he said he could not comment. Any questions would have to go through public affairs, he said.
A CBP public affairs representative could not be reached on Sunday.

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