- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2006

HOULTON, Maine (AP) — The United States wants to better secure its border with Canada, but it may have trouble finding it in some areas, an official with the agency that maintains the border said.

The United States and Canada have fallen so far behind on basic maintenance of their shared border that law-enforcement officials may have to search through overgrown vegetation for markers in some places, the official said.

“If you can’t find it, then you can’t secure it,” said Dennis Schornack, the U.S. commissioner of the International Boundary Commission (IBC), the intergovernmental agency responsible for maintaining the U.S.-Canada border.

The Boeing Co. has been awarded a three-year contract to implement the first part of what could be a multibillion-dollar plan to reduce illegal entry along the 6,000 miles of border with Canada and Mexico using better technology, including cameras, sensors and even unmanned airplanes.

But commission officials say their budget of just more than $3 million is insufficient and insist that if they are not given more money to buy basic machinery to beat back the weeds, bushes and trees that threaten to overtake parts of the border, all those high-tech gadgets could prove useless.

“I’ve talked and talked, and we don’t seem to be getting anywhere,” Mr. Schornack said. “Yes, it’s not glamorous. It’s not high-tech. … But if you don’t get that basic job done, all I know is cameras won’t work.”

The 5,525-mile U.S.-Canada border cuts a 20-foot-wide swath through many wooded areas. Down the middle are monuments and markers denoting the actual border.

The agency, consisting of two commissioners (one from each country), seven field engineers and a small support staff, is responsible for surveying and maintaining more than 8,000 monuments and reference points.

The IBC has warned that it has fallen far behind in clearing fast-growing brush and trees, especially in the United States’ Northeast and Northwest — between Washington state and British Columbia, and among New England, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Mr. Schornack will meet in Washington tomorrow and Tuesday with his Canadian counterparts, high-ranking homeland security officials and members of Congress to lobby for more funding.

Canadian officials say the United States needs to contribute more money.

The United States contributed $1.43 million this fiscal year, compared with $2.2 million Canada contributed, the commission said. The U.S. contribution pales in comparison with the $33 million it is giving the International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees maintenance of the border with Mexico. And a bill to erect a fence along the Mexican border went to President Bush on Friday.

“Some of the catch-up projects that the Americans are supposed to undertake are not being done. We’re doing as much as we can with our funding, but the catch-up rate is not what it should be,” said Al Arseneault, the deputy commissioner of the commission’s Canadian branch.

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