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To open or not to open the border, that is the question

Fort Erie

Usually, this would be the time when there are bonfires on the beaches on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie, traffic building on the Peace Bridge and people talking about Sherkston. Not this year.

The border is closed and will be for at least another month. As with so many elements in this locked-down age, the reason is COVID-19.

On the Canadian side of the Niagara River, there are some high-powered people who don't want the border opened, fearing Americans will bring mass numbers of infected people along. It is having a bad effect on the tourism industry and some businesses are likely to go down the tubes because there isn't the summer resident traffic.

Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop said letting American friends come right now is a bad idea.

"In Fort Erie, we're particularly fortunate because a lot of the summer residents are very active in our community and have been big supporters of a lot of things that have happened here, whether it's helping to fund the construction of a new library or participating in some of the festivals or events that we have going on or just being good neighbors," he said. "So it's difficult and it's hard to say, we'd like to come visit but not right now."

Redekop said the Fort Erie real estate market isn't doing well because of the border closing and some businesses that rely on summer residents might not survive, but it is necessary.

Niagara Falls, Ontario Councilmember Wayne Thomson said many Canadians want the border kept closed.

"Who are saying there was such a disaster with the virus in New York and New York area that, don't open the borders in a hurry because they are all going to come here and we're going to have another wave of the virus in Niagara Falls, Ontario," Thomson said.

Thomson is a long-time activist in the tourism business and sees economic problems in the border staying closed. Others say the thin off-season population in Niagara Region makes infection less likely.

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) said he wants the border reopened.

"A lot of people in Buffalo and Western New York have cottages over in Canada, Bay Beach, Crystal Beach. They should be able to travel there," Higgins said. "I think people in Western New York have demonstrated clearly that they take very seriously the need to social distance and to wear a mask when social distancing is not possible."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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