June 11, 2009

Schumer, Gillibrand Call On Feds to Work to Resolve Massena Border Crossing Issue

Canadian Officials Have Closed Seaway International Bridge on Cornwall Island

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to step in and mediate a resolution to the Canadian-Mohawk dispute which has closed the Seaway International Bridge in Massena, New York.  As a result of a dispute regarding arming border personnel in and around Mohawk land, Canadian officials recently closed the Seaway International Bridge on Cornwall Island.  The bridge is a vital link in the North Country economy and closure is economically devastating to Massena and the surrounding community. North Country community leaders have stressed the need for this situation to be resolved as quickly as possible to reduce economic fallout.

"The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security can provide much-needed leadership to break this impasse," said Senator Schumer. "DHS and State Department must work together with Canadian officials and leaders of the Mohawk community to immediately reopen the Seaway Bridge. The Canadian decision to close the bridge is short-sighted and not acceptable. It is doing significant economic harm to the communities along the Seaway.  We must work together, let cooler heads prevail, and open this crossing as soon as possible. I have no doubt that negotiating in good faith can forge a sensible solution to this situation."

"The Seaway International Bridge is essential to the economic wellbeing of North Country communities," said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "During these tough economic times, it is important that the federal government engage in the situation to reduce the impact on Massena. It is critical that this situation to be resolved as quickly and efficiently as possible."

"I applaud the efforts of our U.S. Senators and join them in urging the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to bring this crisis to an end," said Assemblywoman Addie Russell.  "The economic impact of the bridge closure has already proven devastating to Massena and Northern St. Lawrence County. A cooperative resolution must be reached as soon as possible."

Canadians and Americans taking a shortcut through Canada represent a significant portion of customers that frequent local restaurants and stores, as well as the St. Lawrence Mall.  According to local officials, since the border closing, Canadian traffic at the mall is down a staggering 50 percent and down a similar amount at other local businesses.

The Seaway Bridge connects the Akwesasne reservation in Ontario to Massena, New York, and serves as an important trade route. The bridge was closed in May with no indication of when it will be reopened.  Community officials have explained that the route was deemed unsafe due to unrest among several members of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe who were protesting the Canadian initiative to arm all of its border officers.  While the Canadian custom service has stated that arming officers enhances the safety of its officers and their ability to do their jobs, members of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe believe that this policy affects their sovereignty.

In their letter, Schumer and Gillibrand wrote, "We believe that we need to work with both the Canadian customs officials and residents of the Akwesasne reservation to reach an equitable solution as quickly as possible in order to reopen this integral trade route.  We urge you to focus on this issue."