After two years of isolation, Point Roberts is open for work. Something like.

Point Roberts, the famous exclave of Washington, is surrounded on three sides by water and the last by the Canadian border. If you want to reach the peninsula by land, you have to drive to Blaine and through British Columbia to land back in the United States.

So when the pandemic closed the northern border, the 850-nation community was essentially cut off. Two years later, when the border is most open since the pandemic began, there are slow signs of recovery – but some say more needs to be done.

Point Roberts is a popular summer destination. Just a few square miles, The Point sees tens of thousands of Canadian tourists each year, many of whom stroll to beautiful beaches and esoteric American goods, along with cheaper parcels and gasoline prices. But that all changed when the Canadian border was closed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing when they announced the closure of the border,” said Ali Hayton, owner of International Market, the only grocery store in Point Roberts. “And my first answer was, thank God, it’s March, not July, because summer is our busy time and we gather everything for our lean winters.

The two years since then have felt like a long winter, with the northern border reopened to vaccinated travelers last November. At the time, those going to Canada also needed a recent negative test for Covid – although that requirement was dropped in April.

There are now some returning passengers, but Hayton says the current border crossing protocol still discourages visitors.

“For two years, I would walk into a store and be happy to see five or six cars that are not my employees,” Hatton said. “If I look out the window, I have 20-25 cars. My section contains 200. We are not close to where we were before.

While summer tourism is a major economic driver at Point Roberts, it’s not the only connection The Point has with Canada. All utilities such as water, electricity and septic tanks pass through British Columbia.

“Seventy-five percent of our property is owned by Canadians,” said Brian Calder, president of the Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce. “Ninety percent of our economy – our golf course, our marina, our parks, our campsite – 90 percent comes from British Columbia.

“In principle, British Columbia owns us in a way – we just didn’t give them the keys.”

Calder is adamant that he wants to see changes in the current border situation. At the beginning of the pandemic, Point Roberts had a special sign to allow key workers across the border. This designation was changed when the border was opened in November. Travelers are already using a system called ArriveCan, a digital application that tracks the health information of those crossing the border.

Every time someone wants to cross, they have to fill out ArriveCan. Calder said many of Canada’s commercial workers find the process cumbersome and as a result choose to avoid the Point Roberts business. He wants an exemption from ArriveCan so that the community can catch up with lagging construction and renovation projects and help boost the economy more widely.

“There are some restrictions that allow very few people to enter because they don’t want to go through this ArriveCan quarrel,” explained Whatcom County Executive Director Satpal Sidhu. “We believe it should be repealed soon.

Sidhu also expressed support for the release of ArriveCan for Point Roberts, although all decisions will have to be approved by the federal governments in Canada and the United States.

Listen to Soundside’s full conversations with Brian Calder and Satpal Sidhu by clicking on the audio above.

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