Hi-Line cashes in on anti-terrorism

Montana State Roundup

Published November 1, 2004  | November 2004 issue

Along the Hi-Line near the Canadian border, investments by the federal government in anti-terrorism are giving new meaning to the term Homeland Security—as in greater economic security for a region that has been steadily losing population for decades.

Communities such as Shelby, Havre, Raymond and Sweetgrass are cashing in on increased federal spending as the Department of Homeland Security beefs up its northern presence. The number of U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees in the state has more than doubled to roughly 320 since 9/11. CBP Field Operations has added more than 100 officers, assigning them to the state's 20 ports of entry. Another 60 new agents have joined the Border Patrol.

CBP employees earn solid salaries and benefits; the starting salary for a border patrol agent is about $34,500 a year, 28 percent higher than the average salary in the state. The new workers and their families expand tax bases, increase school enrollment and bring fresh blood to churches and volunteer organizations.

The city of Shelby has converted a cluster of former NorthWestern Energy buildings into offices for 40 border enforcers. Homeland Security will lease the buildings for $6.5 million over 20 years. In Sweetgrass, Canadian and U.S. officials opened a $33 million border crossing two months ago. New border buildings also are boosting tax rolls in Scobey, Malta, Plentywood, Opheim and Willow Creek.

Phil Davies