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Flights are worth another look: Customs officials should revisit decision to nix Fairbanks-Dawson route

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial

One of the knocks that Fairbanks residents have on the big tour companies is that their visitors don’t get to spend much time in our city. Tours are generally heavily scripted and brisk.

We love our tourists and we love our town. And we want these valuable guests to stay awhile — and to help our economy a bit more while they’re here.

That’s why it’s disappointing to hear that officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection rejected a proposal by Holland America to fly customers on Air North aircraft between Fairbanks and Dawson City, Yukon. The nine weekly flights, which would start next year, would reduce the amount of time on buses for about 19,000 visitors annually, giving those people more opportunity to experience Fairbanks or Dawson.

The Customs decision should be reconsidered.

Customs officials said the reason is simple: They don’t have sufficient staff to send people to Fairbanks from Anchorage to process tourists coming in from Canada. The port director in Anchorage, in a letter to Air North, said moving Customs employees to Fairbanks to handle the added flights would be an “inefficient use of our existing resources.”

This is possibly another example of our nation’s failure to deal with the exploding cost of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. These programs, as important as they are and as ingrained as they are, can’t go away but can be modified, albeit with some pain. The size of these programs limits what the federal government can do in other areas in which it can, given the resources, serve us well — one of those areas being economic development.

Government, whether federal, state or local, regularly serves as a catalyst for economic growth. It does it all the time by adjusting tax laws and land-use rules, for example.

So it’s entirely appropriate for government, within reason, to station additional Customs employees in Fairbanks to make this proposal by Holland America a reality.

The decision needs a review, perhaps with the involvement of the state’s members of Congress. Sen. Lisa Murkowski already has expressed her concern to the acting Customs commissioner. Sen. Mark Begich added his objection on Friday. So, too, did the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce.

Let’s hope this isn’t the end of the story. We want to see our summer guests a bit longer.

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