TOOLE COUNTY — Semi trucks continue to be backed up in the area surrounding the Sweet Grass-Coutts Port of Entry at the Montana-Alberta border, as part of a larger movement in Canada called a "Freedom Convoy." The convoy was initiated to oppose Canada’s vaccination mandates, which require that truckers entering Canada quarantine for two weeks if passing into the country without a COVID vaccination. The protest has since gathered support from Canadians opposed to other COVID-related measures.
- RCMP responds to 'Freedom Convoy' at Alberta-Montana border
- Traffic closed at Coutts-Sweet Grass port of entry
- Trucks backed up for miles at Alberta-Montana border
- "Potential travel delays" at Port of Sweetgrass
- People gather on Hi-Line to support 'Freedom Convoy'
MTN reporters Lindsey Stenger and Brianna Juneau were in Toole County on Tuesday. They talked with truckers that are stuck on the Montana side of the border due to the continued closure of the Sweet Grass/Coutts Port of Entry, and also with workers in the town of Shelby about how the situation is affecting them.
Zed Aldali is a trucker who has been stuck in Montana for about 2 1/2 days. His freight is full of ground beef and after two days after not being able to reach his intended destination, the possibility of spoiled meat adds to the stress.
“This is obviously a lot for us; if our meat goes bad we still have to go through the meats expiration checkpoint in order to even cross the border,” said Aldali. “And if our meat goes bad we’re gonna be stuck here even longer because we can’t cross over obviously.”
Although Aldali has been stuck in Sweet Grass for over two days he is still being paid by his company.
However, truckers Jason Junk and Garnet Lang are independent truckers, which means they own the trucks but work for companies - and each day stuck in Montana means less revenue.
“I'm an owner operator, so is Rob, and that guy over there, he is too, and yeah, we aren't getting paid, we're out of revenue,” said Junk.
Junk estimates his cost per day in Montana is nearly $1,300: Each day I’m here I’m losing money.”
Lang says that in his years of trucking he’s never felt the way he feels here: “I definitely run into my fair share of truck hold-ups in my career but never one like I feel like a hostage - with no end in sight.”
Every trucker we spoke to is far away from family and getting increasingly more irritated as the days go on.
Lang said, “I understand what they’re doing, but if it’s something that was realistic I could get behind it a lot more, but they’re trying to overrun the government, which in my opinion is just a waste of time. I just want to make a living to provide for my family and keep my business going.”
In Shelby, some businesses are overrun with truckers who can’t get through the border - gas stations, hotels, and restaurants are seeing a big increase of customers.
“I actually haven’t seen this many drivers in my trucker lounge, ever” said the Town Pump general manager Lara Clark. “They’re usually overnight and gone by morning. This time they’re staying.”
The employees at Town Pump reported lines of truckers coming in and out of the business, quickly getting overwhelmed. While they are used to seeing around 20 truckers parked outside at night, nothing compares to the 65-plus truckers that are parked here now.
The Best Western hotel is also reporting an uptick in business, which is odd because there usually isn’t this much traffic during this time of year. General manager Rachel Manzanares was shocked at how many guests she has been seeing come through.
“I didn’t expect it. You know, I knew about the protest happening on Saturday, and still when I saw the numbers Saturday night, I was still surprised,” she explained.
The hotel has been extremely accommodating, allowing late check-out times for when the truckers decide to leave. Unfortunately at the moment, most of them always come back.
“A lot of them go try in the morning every day, and then end up coming back and turning around because they can’t get through yet,” Manzanares said.
Fortunately, she said, most of the customers are very patient and friendly despite the circumstances.
Overall, Shelby has been seeing a huge change in the past few days, and everyone hopes that the truckers can finally get through to the border sometime soon.
Manzanares is interested in seeing the outcome. “This has definitely impacted Shelby, you know, being so close to that port. I’m sure all of our businesses have seen an increase with restaurants and hotels and shopping and everything because they’re just kind of stuck, but yeah, it’s interesting. It’s not something that was expected for sure”