A move is afoot to re-establish the city as a port of call for American travellers.
The Silver City could be back on the map as a watercraft transportation centre via a port of call motion now advancing through to the Columbia River Treaty negotiations.
If it passes, the motion would allow American boaters to once again travel up the Columbia River with relative ease, and increase tourism and give a boost to the Greater Trail economy as well as the Kootenay region.
The motion—put forth under the auspices of the Lower Columbia Community Development Team (LCCDT)—would restore trans boundary boat travel, both north and south, something that was lost nearly 15 years ago in the city when international border security was tightened.
Chair of LCCDT, Mike Martin, said the idea to restore the city’s former designation was rooted in a belief that it was a very constructive economic development initiative.
“It was a real opportunity to revisit something that was there years ago that will really improve cross border relations and also improve the utilization of a tremendous asset that we have by way of the Columbia River through tourism,” he said.
Martin said the LCCDT has had discussions at Lake Roosevelt forum in Spokane, Wash., the Canadian Columbia River Forum—a preparatory group of politicians and bureaucrats, both federal and provincial—and with people with the Columbia River Treaty just to see if there was any interest in the idea and to generate some constructive dialogue.
“And there is some interest on both sides of the border,” said. “But this won’t happen overnight and it will take a while, but unless we start the process we don’t know what else will create it.”
The Columbia River Treaty is an international water management agreement between Canada and the United States. The treaty is unique—it is a treaty to manage cross-boundary river flows where both signatory countries to the treaty share in the benefits resulting from the treaty.
LCCDT member Gord DeRosa said the previous port of call was located on the riverbank at the end of the Esplanade’s seawall, where a large Canadian flag was painted. At the time, the port meant American travellers would report in like they would at any customs and immigration office to get clearance.
People had to phone in and say they were coming in, and on the Canadian side a customs officer was sent down from Paterson and they would inspect the boat and allow it to pass.
When the designation was lost, the move did not sit well with the Trail city council of the day, and the river was charted with navigational charts as a navigable international water.
Council also had a port of call building designed—at a cost of around $350,000—and was to be located at Indian Eddy in Gyro Park.
“However, it would have been the responsibility of the city to build the facility, there would have been no federal assistance,” DeRosa recalled.
Trail council couldn’t see its way clear to do that, so the effort was abandoned.
Now a boat would have to be taken out of the water at the border, delivered to Paterson border crossing for inspection, and then delivered back and put in the water.
“New security measures came in and made it impractical to get a boat across the border,” said DeRosa.
Opening up the border now would add to boating experiences if Americans could travel north, go through the lock on the Keenleyside Dam, venture up the Arrow Lakes, and, in certain seasons, continue on to Revelstoke.
Although it was too early to speculate, DeRosa saw the potential for commercial ventures springing up around the port of call building in Trail.
“When you talk about opportunities, that river is our biggest,” said DeRosa.
“The river used to be our number one (means of transportation), and we lost it.”
The LCCDT see itself as a catalyst to creating a port of call in Trail, said Martin, laying the early groundwork to first get some interest on the Canadian side of the border and then see if it can carry over into the U.S.
The team won’t ultimately be the vehicle to advance the project to completion, he added, but it wanted to spark the idea. That is one of the functions of the LCCDT, said Martin, to come up with ideas and initiatives, seeing what interest there might be, and then doing the early stages of pursuing them and bringing the right parties together.
The LCCDT is a volunteer organization made up of 30 members—with 60 on nine committees—with the goal of improving economic development in the region.