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Coleman: State Dept. to open Minnesota passport office

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The U.S. State Department plans to open a passport processing office in the Twin Cities area, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman announced late Wednesday.

The move comes nearly three weeks after the State Department began taking applications for its new passport card, which will be valid for people traveling across the Canadian border.

"I am thrilled that the State Department will be opening a passport office in the Twin Cities," Coleman, R-Minn, said in a statement. "Last year I had urged Secretary (Condoleezza) Rice and Assistant Secretary Maura Harty to consider Minnesota for a passport office, and I am delighted that they agree on the merit of placing an office here."

No details were available Wednesday night on where the office would be located, other than in the met-ropolitan area. But the Minnesota office will be able to process same-day passports, at an expedited fee, rather than having people seek a passport in Chicago or Denver -- the nearest passport offices to Minne-sota.

"As we saw last year, Americans' demand for passports has increased dramatically -- my office alone helped over 3,000 constituents whose vacations, business trips or honeymoons were in jeopardy because they could not get passports in time," Coleman said.

"The new office will mean Minnesotans will no longer need to drive to Chicago or Denver for same-day passport services. This announcement is particularly timely as the administration proceeds with the West-ern Hemisphere Travel Initiative and new document requirements for travel to Canada," he said.

For more than a year, a passport has been required for air or ship travel to Canada, Mexico and the Car-ibbean. That rule will be extended to border crossings by ground means by June 2009.

"This is a major victory for Minnesota, as it will cut down on wait times, allow a convenient, close-to-home option for same-day passport processing and increase overall passport processing capacity for our region," a statement from Coleman's office said. "With the new border travel regulations going into effect in June 2009, it is especially important for Minnesota."

The new office will process both the new passport card and the traditional passport, the statement said, and will be able to push through same-day passports with the required expedited fees for those who face travel deadlines requiring a passport within two weeks.

The State Department last year announced it would delay implementing its passport requirement until this summer, a rule that was to have taken effect Jan. 1. Instead, travelers will be able to show a valid driver's license with photo and birth certificate. Later legislation pushed the starting date to summer 2009.

Coleman, in his June 2007 letter to Rice, urged her to consider opening a regional passport office in Min-nesota as "Minneapolis-St. Paul is a major hub for Northwest Airlines. It is the origination point for over 13,000 international flights, serving over 1 million people each year.

"Moreover, the Twin Cities is a major metropolitan area, with a population of 3 million and many For-tune 500 companies operating in the global economy," Coleman continued. "Finally, Minnesota is a border state. Two million land border crossings occur at International Falls port of entry alone."

The State Department currently has 13 regional passport agencies in cities throughout the nation, called Gateway Passport Agencies, and able to serve more than 600 customers a day.