The Alpena News: Peters vows to push for Alpena customs agent

ALPENA — In 2016, the federal government decided not to refill the position of a customs agent in Alpena who retired and, although there was a concerted effort to convince the feds to reconsider, that position remain open today.

That means international travelers are forced to stop elsewhere to clear customs.

Now that U.S. Senator Gary Peters has become the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, however, the matter could be brought back before the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency for reconsideration.

Peters, a Democrat, said that, not only does having an agent in town bolster local economies and increase economic development opportunities, but it also protects the United States’ border with Canada. He said Michigan has the second-longest international border with Canada, most of it water. For that reason, Peters said he intends to push hard to fill the customs position locally.

“We are definitely going to revisit that,” he told The News. “We hear so much about our southern border that I think people forget we need to protect the northern one, too. There are business opportunities we don’t have right now because of it, and I think having a person there in customs would pay for itself. I will push aggressively and take another run at it.”

Before the retirement of the local agent, boats and aircraft could pass customs in Alpena and Rogers City. Now, however, they have to go through the process in Sault Ste. Marie or elsewhere. Peters said a delegation of representatives worked hard previously to get the empty position refilled, and he intends to do so again because it has a financial impact on the area and is a burden to international travelers wanting or needing to stop in Northeast Michigan.

Alpena County Regional Airport Manager Steve Smigelski said the international traffic at the airport has slipped because of the loss of the custom agent. He believes 20 to 30 international flights a year have been forced to get checked in Sault Ste. Marie or Port Huron. The lack of an agent has also resulted in the loss of revenue from fuel sales from planes stopping in Alpena for customs and filling up their plane while here.

“They used to come in from Europe and Canada, clear customs, get fuel, and carry on their way,”Smigelski said. “Doing it in Alpena was easier and faster than doing it larger airports and people took advantage of that.”

Alpena Harbor Master Don Gilmet said it is possible Alpena has lost about a dozen boats traveling internationally because there is no agent. He said the impact at the harbor has been limited, however.

“It likely caused some boats to go somewhere else, but to get a concrete number is difficult,” Gilmet said.

Being a senior member on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will also allow Peters to work more closely with all of the agencies in Washington, as well as provide oversight for them. He said the committee’s goals are to make sure those departments fulfill their responsibilities while being fiscally responsible at the same time.

“The committee has broad jurisdiction and oversight,” he said. “We want to make sure things are being run efficiently and responsibly.”

By:  Steve Schulwitz
Source: The Alpena News