By Alex Gault, Watertown Daily Times on September 21, 2022
ALEXANDRIA — Local officials are still waiting on word from U.S. Customs and Border Protection as to where the agency plans to locate its latest construction project, a planned Border Patrol station.
After the Thousand Islands Land Trust began the process to purchase CBP’s preferred site for the facility, on the ecologically sensitive Blind Bay, TILT and town officials were eager to propose a new site for the agency’s plans.
But they haven’t heard much from CBP as the agency has continued its search. Rumors of potential sites are circulating around the community, stressing residents and worrying officials.
“We support the mission of CBP, it’s never been about that,” Alexandria Supervisor Brent H. Sweet said during a meeting at the Watertown Daily Times offices last week. “We just want a say in where this thing goes in our community.”
Jake R. Tibbles, the executive director of TILT, said his organization offered CBP help in locating a new suitable site, and was able to secure a meeting between TILT officials, CBP and Army Corps of Engineers officials earlier this year to share information. Mr. Tibbles said CBP officials have taken this issue up the chain of command, with CBP leadership now in charge of the ultimate decision. The process to make the decision on where the facility will go is also about halfway finished, he said.
“They know how big of an issue this is,” Mr. Tibbles said.
As TILT completes its purchase of the Blind Bay property, which should be finalized within the next month or so, Mr. Tibbles said there’s still a risk that CBP decides to employ eminent domain to take the Blind Bay property without an agreement.
“We really need to avoid that,” he said. “That would be basically the antithesis of the whole point of why we bought the property.”
While CBP continues its process of checking potential properties to locate the Border Patrol station, town and county officials said the community has heard rumor after rumor of where the facility may end up.
“Those rumors are damaging,” said Jefferson County Legislator Philip N. Reed Sr., who represents the towns of Alexandria, Orleans and LeRay. “People get worried. There was talk of the facility going in at the corner of Fishers Landing, on Route 12, and that got people really concerned.”
These rumors have various sources, and none of the rumored sites have any documentation or CBP statements to support their status as contenders, but officials said the community is still worried. When CBP was actively working toward locating the facility on a shoreline parcel on one of the most sensitive aquatic environments on the St. Lawrence River, thousands of letters of concern flooded in from area residents. Those residents have continued to pay attention, and town and county officials said they’ve seen a tremendous amount of support behind their proposal to locate the Border Patrol facility in the former Bonnie Castle Stables recreational center in the town of Alexandria.
“There are very few issues I’ve seen where people go from 100% negative to almost 100% positive on the solution,” Mr. Reed said.
Local officials said they’re continuing to pursue every option to make their case, including working with federal elected officials. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said in an emailed statement that she has continued to pay attention to the issue since the first facility plans were released, and will continue to do so.
“Since the beginning of this process, my office has been engaging the federal government to listen to all concerns and feedback from local stakeholders and has connected stakeholders directly with CBP,” she said. “Our nation’s border security is paramount, and I will continue to work towards a solution that works for everyone.”
A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said the senator agrees that CBP needs a new facility, but that new facility should balance the needs of CBP with the needs of the community and local ecology.
“Senator Schumer supports the CBP mission and has long believed that a new facility is needed, but the current plan would put the environment and quality of life too much at risk,” said Allison Biasotti, the senator’s spokeswoman. “Schumer will continue to push CBP to work with local leaders and stakeholders to find a different station location that will boost the vital service of the agency, the local community, and protect the natural beauties of the St. Lawrence River basin.”