Washington state, British Columbia border towns in crisis as economy evaporates

The US-Canadian border between Washington state and British Columbia will soon have been economically shuttered for an entire year. 

The border closure could last longer as the pandemic limits non-essential travel between the two countries, but the economic toll is a crisis that has been looming since March of last year. 

The shutdown left small communities on Washington's side of the border teetering on the edge of an economic cliff, now legislators are seeking diplomatic relief from the White House.

Representative Suzan DelBene and other members of Washington’s congressional delegation underscored the crisis in a letter shared with President Biden’s administration.

In Sumas, neighbors said the town felt empty and some said visiting loved-ones on the northern side of the international border can be nearly impossible.

"It’s been rough," said Laura Anker. Family members live on both sides of the border, Anker said, adding that the separation has been taking an emotional toll.

"There’s not one person from here to the border on the road," said business owner Rick Kildall while standing on what would normally be a very busy SR 9.

He credited Sumas and surrounding communities for helping him maintain a bare-bones staff during the crisis, but more customers would be key for long-term success.

"We need the border, that’s where we make our money."

The city of Blaine is also used to Canadian neighbors boosting the local American economy. City Manager Michael Jones said revenues were down by double digits since the border had closed. From 2019 to 2020, he said the city’s penny gasoline tax had fell nearly 75 percent short of previous records, but losses to the region go beyond dollars and cents.  

"It’s essential that the border reopen to bring back normalcy to our communities," he said.

Recently, Representative Suzan Delbene dispatched a letter to the President Biden administration, highlighting an 8-point plan to resume travel and manage intersecting crises.

For some Whatcom County locals, time feels like it's running out for struggling businesses. Others worry local jobs that have survived this long may not be sustainable as a normally sizeable customer base has all but disappeared.

Anker was emotional, saying she had not seen some family members for months. An international border that once tied her family together now all but separates them. She told Q13 News the division has lasted too long.

"We can’t see our families," she said, "It makes no sense to me."