PRESQUE ISLE — Two members of Maine’s congressional delegation Tuesday told a woodsmen’s representative that they will look into the concerns of Maine loggers, but they had little concrete information that could help end the conflict that brought about the blockade Monday of a port of entry along the Quebec border.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. John Baldacci were seeking information rather than offering solutions for the problems that brought about the blockade. Both were sympathetic to the loggers’ complaints presented by Stacey Kelly, a Fort Kent trucker who was on the blockade line Monday.
Also present at Tuesday’s meeting at the Northern Maine Regional Airport were a representative from U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s office, state Sen. Judy Paradis, state Rep. Duane Belanger, two representatives from the Maine Department of Labor, and a Maine Forest Service official.
Maine woodsmen complained that they have been losing jobs to Canadian woodsmen who are willing to work at lower wages. The Maine woodsmen also are concerned about the amount of American lumber going to Canadian mills for processing.
Meanwhile, at St. Pamphile, Quebec, about 10 woodsmen continued their vigil, blockading the entry into Maine through the port of entry. There were no confrontations.
Police said American truckers, whose loaded trucks are parked in back of the blockade, are unhappy because they cannot deliver their loads to the mills in Quebec. The trucks have been parked since Monday morning.
There was no news Tuesday on a woodsmen’s request for a declaration from the U.S. secretary of labor to move the Immigration and Naturalization Service to close the border to bonded Canadians working in the Maine woods.
“We hear your concerns, and we’ve heard them before,” Baldacci said. “There is a lot of frustration. You are all wondering why we are not doing something. We are. We worked to assist the construction of a mill at Portage. It’s a start to rebuild the lumber infrastructure.”
Baldacci did say, however, that “if U.S. workers were diminished because of the large number of bonds [Canadian woodsmen], it can be stopped. If Americans are adversely affected, something can be done.”
Collins said she could not encourage the blockade.
“On the other hand, we need to get a better understanding of the Department of Labor and your concerns,” she said. “I understand that you are not working the sufficient number of days a year to earn a living.”
The two congressional representatives listened to Kelly’s allegations against Canadian companies and logging contractors operating in the northern Maine woods and said the concerns would be investigated. They suggested that several of the concerns, if true, may be illegal.
Kelly was direct from the outset. The trucker asked if discussions could be conducted on a first-name basis. He also told the two politicians that he “was not there to enhance anyone’s political future. I am here to get a point across.”
“The northern Maine forest is not sustainable if the intent is to supply 15 Canadian mills along the Maine border,” Kelly said. “It is sustainable if the wood is cut to supply mills in Maine and one or two mills along the Maine border. There are enough woodsmen in Maine to cut this wood.
“There are acres and acres of flat land in the Maine woods,” he said. “Much of it has never seen an American chain saw or an American truck. It has been cut and hauled by Canadians and their equipment.”
Baldacci said, “We will try to find out if aggressive means were used to find Americans to work in the Maine woods before the Department of Labor turned to approving bonds for Canadians.
“We will also look to investigate claims that workers are not being paid the prevailing wage to work in the woods,” he said. “The prevailing wage must be paid.”
“What is the answer?” asked Collins during the meeting.
“We want the tip of our state back,” Kelly responded. “We want it back into Maine control, and we won’t leave the border until it is. We will close more borders. We want people to step up to the plate and help us. We want this thing settled.
“Other steps can be taken,” Kelly said.
Before leaving, Baldacci said he would work with the woodsmen. He said he would be back in northern Maine on Friday.
“We will do all we can do to assist you,” said Baldacci before leaving.
Reached at St. Pamphile on Tuesday afternoon, Hilton Hafford, one of the blockade leaders, reported that Canadians again went to the border Tuesday morning.
“They turned around,” he said. “We sent some of our men to Daaquam to see if many were going there to get into the state.”
Hafford promised that the blockaders would be back at the border this morning.
“We may send some people to Daaquam as well,” he said.