DERBY LINE — The historic main street shared by Derby Line, Vt. and Stanstead, Quebec has a gate on it that, if closed, would sever an iconic link between both countries.
It’s the latest sign of tightening border access in the wake of the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. CNN has reported that U.S. troops are being sent to line up at the Canadian border, but Canada’s prime minister is asking that they don’t come.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency apparently ordered the installation of the tall metal gate on the American side of the border here. The gate was put in place Wednesday afternoon, observers on both sides of the border said.
It remained open into Thursday evening.
The gate’s installation surprised Canadian customs agents at the Canadian port across from the downtown Derby Line port. They had not heard anything about when or if it would be closed as of Thursday late afternoon.
U.S. CBP agents were telling travelers entering the U.S. that the gate could be closed only overnight, or possibly within weeks to divert all cross-border traffic to the main ports of entry on Interstate 91 in Derby Line and Auto Route 55 in Quebec.
Michael McCarthy, a regional spokesman for CBP, said he would respond to requests for comment from The Record about the purpose of the gate and the small ports here, or across the country, if and when he could provide a statement about it.
CBP agents told border crossers that the gate is part of a response to the pandemic, which has significantly reduced land travel across the world’s friendliest border.
One customs agent in Stanstead said late afternoon Wednesday that only 15 people had crossed the border that day at the port of entry on the main street that both Derby Line and Stanstead share. On Thursday late afternoon, after word about the gate spread across the community and on social media, fewer than 10 people had crossed, including those who are considered essential workers in either country, and several like this reporter who live in Vermont and provide essential care to elderly parents.
Quebec residents used to flood across the border in Derby Line regularly to buy gasoline and milk, get their mail and do banking in Derby Line and elsewhere, as well as to work and visit family. This week, Derby Line’s Main Street is nearly a ghost town.
On March 18, the U.S. and Canada agreed to temporarily close their shared border to nonessential travel.
The restrictions on the Canadian border were not intended to affect the flow of trade between the countries. Canada relies on the U.S. for 75 percent of its exports and about 18 percent of American exports go to Canada, according to an Associated Press report.
Much of Canada’s food supply comes from or via the U.S., and 98 percent of its oil exports go to the U.S.
Essential travel included supply chains between both countries, such as food, fuel and medicines.
It also included health care and other essential workers.
Truck drivers and Canadian snowbirds, who live in the U.S. for part of the year and are returning to Canada, are among those exempted.
The U.S. will not prevent Americans from returning home from Canada at land ports of entry, such as in Derby Line, border officials have said.
Likewise, Canadian officials have said Canada cannot stop those with Canadian citizenship from entering Canada.
Citizens of Vermont, New Hampshire and Quebec were being asked as of Wednesday to shelter in place on arrival and are being questioned on frequent return travel. On Thursday anyone entering Canada was handed a flier that stated that all people entering Canada “must” self-quarantine for an extended period.
About the U.S. troops presence, CNN reported that President Donald Trump is expected to send fewer than a thousand soldiers to help enforce the ban on nonessential crossings.