Whatcom County Fire District 5 Chief Chris Carleton said he doesn’t see Point Roberts businesses surviving the pandemic if the border closure continues.
POINT ROBERTS, Wash. — It is an isolated Washington town that was recently called the safest spot in America. But it also appears the citizens of Point Roberts, Washington, might be getting a bit stir crazy too.
Chris Carleton is the chief of Whatcom County Fire District 5, which patrols the small enclave below the 49th parallel north.
“Our geographical isolation disproportionately affects us more than other border communities are seeing during this pandemic,” Carleton said in an interview with KING 5.
Last week, Carleton sent a lengthy letter to President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and other federal and county leaders asking for a reconsideration of how both countries handle travel between the town and mainland Canada.
The letter says the U.S./Canada border shutdown has helped create a feeling of “house arrest.” It asks the U.S. and Canada take “unparalleled efforts to realize our community’s expanded predicament and help us forge ideas to safely reconcile our pressing needs for open transit through Canada, balanced with the demands of our current emergency state.”
The approximately 5-square-mile parcel of land at the tip of the Tsawwassen, British Columbia peninsula is a geographical oddity, a byproduct of the decision to divide the two countries along the 49th parallel in the 1846 treaty. Residents, including school kids, are required to travel across two borders, and 20 miles to get to the rest of Whatcom County.
Outside of the events of 9/11, Carleton said the journey has been unimpeded for the most part by any issues until now.
Rep. Suzan DelBene and the Whatcom County Executive’s Office had been part of talks very early on the crisis for a barge or ferry service, but it was deemed logistically and financially tough considering the likely need for cars to make the trip between the parcel and Blaine or Bellingham. Yet, Carleton said residents are finding it tough to find a way out to get routine medical care.
“Two individuals have approached me, and I’ve heard of a third, within just the last week or two weeks that have happened where transit has been denied that hasn’t been deemed essential at the time,” explained Carleton.
He said residents are getting questioned about doctor’s appointments and being forced to provide proof. But Carleton said that was not the case earlier this year, and that is despite the fact there has not been a positive case of COVID-19 in Point Roberts.
“Things are becoming more difficult,” he said. “There’s more questions that are being asked.”
Carleton recently said his more than 1,000-person community noticed a change in character.
“I do know that our grocery store has had a few missed deliveries,” he explained. “You know, they may have one delivery versus two a week. We’re looking at probably, definitely, over 50% of the business that the grocery store has. Realistically, the other businesses within Point Roberts, you know, comes from the international influx. If our community continues to be locked down and not have any type of that commerce coming into our community, then I don’t see our businesses being able to survive.”
Carleton said the town was getting significant traffic from so-called “parcel stations” which served as a hub for Amazon and mail orders for Canadians. But given the circumstances of the border closure, that travel has been cut off too.
“I think the mental health of my community is going to be challenged not only with adults, but also the children who live within my community,” said Carleton.