FORTUNE, NL – The Canada Border Services office in Fortune will remain open.
Fortune council and members of the Fortune Port Corporation met with representatives from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) on Monday, Jan. 30, to discuss the office.
Another media outlet reported the same day that staff at Fortune’s CBSA office were seen removing equipment from the port authority-owned building.
CBSA leases office space from the port corporation; according to Fortune Mayor Charles Penwell, “under Section 6 of the (Customs) Act, the (building) provider is supposed to provide them with facilities free of charge during the months that the ferry is running.”
Penwell spoke to the Southern Gazette following Monday’s meeting. He said CBSA officials explained that while in the past they have paid a lease fee for the building, it was only for the months the ferry was not in operation, as per the act.
With the possibility of ferry service expanding to become a year-round operation, previous discussions between the port authority and CBSA hoped for a lease agreement reflecting an expanded service by the end of January. However, there had not been a resolution, said the mayor.
“So as a result, CBSA (employees were) starting to move (equipment) to the RCMP facility in Grand Bank,” said Penwell. “They’ve suspended that (move) and the port authority has agreed to provide them with the facilities as per the act, and, over the next couple of weeks work out an agreement with them.
“Right now, everything is moving forward.”
During Monday’s meeting officials discussed the impact an extended ferry service will have on the lease agreement and the port corporation.
“Like the CBSA (officials) said, they can’t change the act,” said Penwell. “If the ferry (operators) decide to operate the ferry the (year-round), which would be a good thing for us, then (the harbour authority) has to provide the (building) free of charge.”
Penwell said the town’s port corporation will have to explore options to replace lost revenue from the lease of the building, “but if there’s extra people coming, and extra money coming in that way, depending on the amount of traffic it may balance out anyway,” he explained.
Penwell said there was no official agreement during Monday’s meeting, but he feels confident there will be a formal agreement in the future.
“They couldn’t finalize a big lot because that has to go through (CBSA) infrastructure department in Halifax,” he said.
“I think the port authority now understands where the CBSA is coming from.”
The Southern Gazette contacted Earl Rose, president of the Fortune Port Corporation, but he declined to provide a comment on negotiations with the CBSA.
The Southern Gazette also contacted the Canada Border Services Agency on Monday for comment and officials provided a short statement.
"The CBSA is working very closely with the Fortune Port Corporation and the Town of Fortune to ensure that the CBSA is able to continue to clear commercial traffic and passengers who arrive in Canada at that location."
In a meeting with council Jan. 15, Rose said the port corporation was negotiating an agreement with CBSA.
“We are ready now to prepared to renew the lease with customs again,” Rose told council. “However, under Section 6 of the Custom’s Act they (CBSA) are asking us to give them the building, plus the wharf and whatever is necessary down there in that area, free of charge.”
Section 6 does state that “the operator shall provide equipment and have accommodations or other facilities free of charge for the proper detention and accommodation of imported goods,” said Rose.
That might work in larger centres like Halifax or Vancouver, Rose told council, but for a small port corporation, that’s a tall order.
“Last year was the best year we’ve had – we had approximately 9,000 visitors to St. Pierre,” said Rose. “We cannot support and give Canada customs that building free of charge. We’re not in that kind of financial position.”
Rose told council at the Jan. 15 meeting that the CBSA has requested a short-term lease for a period of three months.
“We told them that we were not interested in a short-term lease at this time.” Rose said signing a short-term agreement would only delay the decision on the matter, and the port corporation would rather have it settled.
“To operate that building as of now costs us around $50,000 plus,” said Rose. “Under no conditions can the Fortune Port Corporation take this kind of responsibility.”