There are few more unforgiving places in winter than Oxford County’s border country. Its vast tracts of frigid wilderness warn even hardy travelers to pick another route – regardless of their business in the region.

For here, the federal government has awarded Oxford County $770,000 to patrol, which buys two snowmobiles, fuel, gear and overtime to pay officers. The duty is cold and lonely, like the terrain, with few chances for human contact and maybe just a snow cave in which to sleep.

Oxford County has 30 miles of border with Canada. The grant essentially provides $25,000 for each one of them, which seems like a steep investment that demands a return. Which is the question surrounding these Oxford patrols.

While the border should be secure, at what point does such federal spending stop being warranted and start being wasteful? It is unclear whether this sizable funding for border protection will actually yield the desired result.

And it’s unfair to guess. Nobody knows. But the evidence is weak. Border locals question the sanity of anyone – legal or illegal – trying to go overland in winter and police, so far, haven’t reported conclusive evidence of activity that requires their immediate presence.

There are snowmobile tracks and low-flying aircraft, but their intents and purposes are unknown. There is a community policing aspect, that police presence deters crime, but this scarcely populated region apparently has neither much crime to deter nor community to police.

This isn’t to say the time is wasted. There is criminal activity there – petty vandalism, for example. But that isn’t what the grant is for, and there are plenty of these crimes and more in more populated parts of Oxford County that need attention before the border grounds.

There’s a broader issue here, too, which is, now some seven years after 9/11, we, as a nation still lack cogent, effective plans for border security. The big idea during the past few years for the southern border was building a blatant boondoggle of a fence with Mexico.

Now here, in Maine in winter, we’re sending police officers on snowmobiles to patrol a 30-mile stretch of wilderness, without clear evidence they will – or can – make this area more secure. In fact, it could be argued that this area’s greatest security asset is its remoteness. And its inhospitableness its strongest defense.

The patrols may unlock secrets, sure. But they could also find what’s already known – it’s quiet on the northern front. If the former happens, it’s money well spent.

But, if the latter, we’re paying a high price for long rides in the woods, on a snowy border.

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