Isolated Canadian islanders worried by tighter US border

Campobello residents must cross the border to reach the rest of Canada and daily necessities. A passport will soon be required.

Residents of Canada's Campobello Island cross into the United States all the time, and they don't have any choice in the matter. For most of the year, it's the only way they can get to the rest of their country.

A short bridge ties the 10-milelong island to Lubec, Maine, at the eastern tip of the United States. For 10 months of the year, the bridge and an hourlong drive through Maine to New Brunswick is the only way for Campobello's 1,200 year-round residents to reach the rest of Canada. It's also the only way to a gas station, movie theater, or hospital.

Anything the islanders can't get or do on their quiet, forested bit of land requires international travel. But as the United States tightens its borders, Campobello Islanders' are feeling the pinch. Islanders are particularly concerned about US plans to require all persons driving into the US from Canada to have a passport as of Dec. 31, 2007, rather than just a photo ID, as has been the case for decades.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, crossing the border has become steadily more difficult, raising concerns among Campobello residents that, at the drop of a hat, they could find themselves cut off from the rest of the world.

"Before 9/11, the bridge was just a way to get across the water," says resident Robert Hooper, a real-estate agent. "Now we're always wondering, if something happens and the US closes the border up, what are we supposed to do?"

For generations, residents of Campobello, Lubec, and other communities on the US's easternmost frontier hardly paid a thought to the border. The ease with which they crossed between the two countries meant Canadians and Americans dated and married one another, and gave birth to their children in one another's hospitals. Their fire departments responded to each other's emergencies.

"We do have a store here now, so a lot of people buy their food here," says resident Mackie Green, who takes tourists out to see the fin, right, and humpback whales that feed along Campobello's rocky, tide-swept shores in summer. "But there are brands you get used to that can only be found on one side or the other, and since you have to go over for gas anyway, you might as well pick up something."

Now, not only will islanders one day need a passport to drive off the island – passports are required for air and sea crossings even sooner, starting Dec. 31, 2006 – so will anyone else wishing to visit their island.

"Consider the sports leagues in the schools," says Eric Allaby, who represents Campobello and two neighboring islands in the provincial legislature. "Teams from the other schools couldn't come to Campobello unless every child has a passport, even kids from Lubec," who currently play them all the time.

Mr. Allaby rattles off other examples: Every Canadian civil servant, transportation worker, postman, mechanic, or appliance repairman with business on Campobello would need a passport, a C$87 (US $77) expense for an adult. "Islanders would need a passport for virtually everything they did," he adds.

Tighter border controls are already causing problems. Delays are rare on the quiet Campobello bridge, but they can run two or three hours at the Calais – St. Stephen crossing, which islanders must pass to access the rest of their country.

Mechanics, repairmen, and contractors coming to perform work on Campobello are often delayed and occasionally blocked at Calais because their tools cause customs officials concern.

Earlier this year, an islander was bounced back and forth between the US and Canadian customs posts on each side of the Campobello bridge because neither side would let him enter the country with a bag of dog food purchased at Lubec's supermarket, 500 yards away.

(Beef products can't be brought across because of concerns about mad cow disease.)

"The other day, on the US side, they stopped a guy who had a hot dog and made him stop eating it and throw it away at the border," says Mr. Hooper. "That doesn't make much sense when you realize that the garbage truck that collects our trash takes it ... over to the transfer station in Marion, Maine, hot dogs and all."

In July and August, at least, residents have a way around the tight American border. A drive down a gravel beach and onto a tiny car ferry takes residents over to Deer Island, N.B., where they can take a second ferry to Letete, a tiny fishing village on the Canadian mainland.

Total travel time, if they make all of their connections: an hour and a half.

To alleviate the island's problems, Allaby is pushing the provincial government to establish a year-round ferry for the island.

"If there is another terrorist attack and the borders are closed, that constitutes an emergency for Campobello," he says. "There has to be a Canada–to–Canada linkage."

Year-round employment is scarce on the island, and residents worry that a tighter border will cut into their livelihoods.

Some find work on the sturdy fishing vessels tied up at the wharves at Head Harbor and Wilson's Beach, while others tend salmon raised in great floating pens in various coves.

Many, however, count on summer tourism, which has fallen significantly since 2001, a trend that is expected to get worse once passports are required to cross back into Maine.

Visits to the island's top destination – the 34-room "cottage" where Franklin D. Roosevelt spent his summers – have already fallen by more than 20 percent since 9/11, according to Pauline Alexander, an employee of the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, which is jointly operated by the US National Park Service and Parks Canada.

"I think it's because people are afraid of the border," says Ms. Alexander, a lifelong resident of the island. "But I don't worry myself. With everything that's going on in the world today, I'm just happy for the simple, sheltered life I have on Campobello."

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