By Alex Gault, Watertown Daily Times on September 5, 2022
ALEXANDRIA — Local officials believe they may have a site available for a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, a place that will offer the needed space without risking the St. Lawrence River’s ecosystems.
In a document shared with news outlets last week, Alexandria Town Supervisor Brent H. Sweet and Jefferson County Legislator Philip N. Reed Sr., who represents the town of Alexandria, laid out a plan that offers part of the town-owned “Bonnie Castle Stables,” property for sale or rent to CBP, to host the administrative and technical center the agency recently planned to build on Blind Bay, in the nearby town of Orleans.
That plan called for the installation of an expansive facility with docks, storage, a parking garage and thousands of square feet of offices and support space that CBP intended to build on the Blind Bay shoreline. Local environmentalists, property owners, business leaders and government officials became concerned with the plan and drew the attention of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
The Thousand Islands Land Trust purchased the land CBP planned to use for the facility, ending the project plans there.
CBP officials have been tight-lipped about the project since plans were first shared with the community in late 2021, saying only that all plans are preliminary and the search for a site continues.
Mr. Sweet and Mr. Reed, who have consulted with local leaders and Sen. Schumer’s office, said they believe the Alexandria plan is an effective alternative to what CBP wanted on Blind Bay.
They said construction on the site will not raise concerns about environmental protection like a waterfront site would. The former Bonnie Castle Stables facility, which was once an event center with restaurants and a horse racing track, then an ice arena used by local teams, was purchased by the town of Alexandria in January for $300,000.
With an assessed value of about $350,000, the 272-acre property is already off tax rolls, something Mr. Sweet and Mr. Reed said will help ensure no more of Alexandria’s land becomes tax-exempt.
“They’re looking for about 10 to 15 acres for their facility,” Mr. Sweet said.
The facility has no water access, but Mr. Sweet said he believes CBP would be willing to rent space from a nearby marina or landowner.
Mr. Sweet said the town is open to leasing the land to CBP for the facility to be built, or selling it outright. As for the town’s own plans for the facility, Mr. Sweet said a CBP facility would not impact anything they could do there.
“It doesn’t change our plans, and it would hopefully create some funding and for infrastructure that we’d have to do for our own purposes,” he said.
Things like entrance roads, water and sewer utilities would become far more cost-effective to run for two users compared to just one, and the money from the sale could be used to reinvest into the facility itself, he said.
Mr. Sweet said he has not yet heard back from Customs and Border Protection officials on the suggestion, which has been developed in conversations for months. The document shared with news outlets last week was dated May 5.
“We did have a question that came back to us that we answered, but other than that we haven’t heard any more,” Mr. Sweet said.
CBP officials did not return a request for comment by press time.