International border council being touted here

Fort Frances resident Julian Morelli left for Washington, D.C. last night to observe meetings with U.S. reps that could result in an international border council being formed here to deal with issues that affect people on both sides of the river.
Morelli, who’s attending the meetings on behalf of local MP Robert Nault, will be the lone Canadian making the trip.
Nault said yesterday he was hoping to get a sense of the U.S. politicians’ commitment before taking the idea to Foreign Affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy and other federal politicians.
If the political will was there, Nault hoped to convene a meeting with his U.S. counterparts later to decide how to proceed.
“I’m going as an observer,” Morelli said yesterday. “I think the first step is to get an understanding of the concerns that both sides share.”
Morelli will present a report to Nault after he returns. And while the federal government isn’t the footing the bill for the trip, Nault added Ottawa may look at picking up Morelli’s expenses later.
This is the first meeting that a Canadian has been privy to but it isn’t the first of its kind. Don Parmeter, who is going on behalf of the Northern Counties Land Use Co-ordinating Board (made of up 10 northern Minnesota counties), said a group met with U.S. Congressional delegates and immigration officials in Washington in March.
The group is trying to come up with ways the two countries could co-operate on issues before a conflict arose. Key to that was creating a forum to open the lines of communication, Parmeter noted.
“We felt, ‘Look, the conflict has gone on long enough. We ought to be breaking down the barriers, not putting them up,’” he remarked.
“We’re focusing more on the federal issues,” he added, with 10 different issues, including boundary waters and treaties, slated for discussion.
“The focus is not going to be on the fishing issues although we expect that will be discussed,” Parmeter said.
One major idea being looked at is a pilot project that would facilitate travel back and forth across the border for both local residents and businesses.
“It’s like the European model,” Nault explained, noting it could mean free and open movement of people and goods.
But Ontario NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton felt the communication lines were already open, noting he had just spoken with Washington yesterday regarding some Customs issues.
The MNR and Minnesota DNR also met frequently to discuss common issues, he added.
Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, who hadn’t heard anything about Morelli’s trip and said no communications had come to the town on the matter, noted the town had been working, in conjunction with the annual Northern Networks trade conference, to facilitate trade between the two countries.
“We have kept it fairly low-key,” Nault noted, stressing it was in its infancy and was premature to say what might come out of these meetings.
Also slated to attend the meetings in Washington were County Commissioner Wade Pavleck, whose district includes a portion of Rainy Lake; International Falls Coun. John McCarthy; Tom Worth, chairman of the Boundary Waters Treaty Coalition; Tim Campbell, regional rep of the Minnesota Office of Tourism; Celeste Colson, a Northwest Angle resort owner; and Allan Anderson, representing the Citizens’ Council on Voyageurs National Park.
They’ll be attending meetings with Sen. Paul Wellstone and Sen. Rod Grams, both of whom sit on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, the State Department, Secretary of Interior, Rep. Irv Anderson, the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs, and the Canadian Embassy.
“This is really a meeting with U.S. officials because we think there’s a problem on our own side,” Parmeter said, noting they would have to deal with the domestic concerns before turning to international ones.