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Our primary purpose is to return the River to the position it was in two months ago.

Owens proposes customs ease on River

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North Country Congressman Bill Owens and his counterpart in Canada want to make it easier for boaters to cruise the Thousand Islands without running afoul of border check-in requirements.

In a phone press conference Wednesday, Owens said he's introduced a bill in the House that would allow Canadian boaters to cross the international border without checking in with customs officers as long as they don't stop in U.S. territory. Canada would pass a similar law for U.S. boaters.

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“Our primary purpose is to return the River to the position it was in two months ago, where people could rely on the fact that if they didn’t dock, or if they didn’t anchor, there was no need to report in,” Owens said. “We think that people need that understanding.”

Canadian Member of Parliament Gordon Brown said there has been “significant confusion” even since Canadian border agents stopped a Syracuse-area boater earlier this summer and fined him 1,000 dollars.

Brown said he grew up right near the Ganonoque Narrows on the St. Lawrence River where Roy Anderson was detained.  He said the border had always been somewhat of a laughing matter.

“Whenever I take folks out in the boat, I tell them, I think the border’s right here and if you look over the side of the boat, you’ll see the line on the bottom, and usually they look over the side,” Brown said with a laugh.

Of course, there is no painted line.  Boaters from both countries have spent the summer confused over when to report to customs.  Fishing tournaments have been cancelled.  Tourism officials have warned the uncertainty could hurt the economy of the binational region.

MP Gordon Brown said the goal is to allow people to enjoy the St. Lawrence while maintaining adequate border security.

“Focus on the bad guys. Nothing that is being proposed here precludes our border service agents in Canada or Homeland Security to deal with people and stop them and check them and ensure that there’s nothing untoward going on,” Brown said.

Canada has already taken measures to ease some rules.  It now allows boaters to check in with customs by cell phone. Canada also returned all but one dollar of Roy Anderson’s fine.

Congressman Bill Owens says he’ll be talking with members of the Northern Border Caucus to co-sponsor his bill in the House of Representatives.

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