By Alex Gault, WDT, August 9, 2023
Aug. 9—FISHERS LANDING — U.S. Customs and Border Protection is now considering alternative sites besides just Blind Bay to build its new border patrol station, in what local officials are calling a win for the community.
On Wednesday, Congresswoman Claudia L. Tenney, R-Canandaigua, announced that CBP officials had confirmed they are considering additional sites to build their new border patrol station, although Blind Bay is still in the running.
“CBP has acknowledged the issues raised by our community and is now looking at additional sites for their relocation,” the Congresswoman said in a press release Wednesday morning. “The CBP has also committed to a more transparent relocation process, acknowledging the need to improve the agency’s dialogue with the communities it protects.”
Previously, CBP had only indicated publicly that it was considering Blind Bay, an environmentally sensitive area of the St. Lawrence River that plays host to a variety of native species. Notably, Blind Bay is one of only a few remaining muskellunge fish spawning sites on the southern shore of the river. Muskie, one of the largest members of the pike family and an iconic fish of the Thousand Islands, has slowly seen its numbers recover in the St. Lawrence River after nearly being wiped out.
On Wednesday, Save the River executive director John Peach said he was happy to hear the news that CBP has expanded its search, indicating it is willing to move away from the Blind Bay plan that has garnered almost universal opposition among the local population.
“This is progress, and I think a lot of the credit goes to Claudia Tenney for facilitating and organizing and getting CBP to open up and talk with the elected officials,” he said.
Local elected officials, environmental advocates, business owners, residents and visitors have joined together to fervently oppose the Blind Bay plan, and have even offered an alternative site at the former Bonnie Castle Stables recreation center in the town of Alexandria. The Thousand Islands Land Trust, dedicated to preserving the natural landscape of the St. Lawrence River and Thousand Islands, now owns the Blind Bay site.
The local state legislators, Senator Mark C. Walczyk and Assemblyman Scott A. Gray, both Republicans of Watertown, and the local county legislator, Philip N. Reed Sr., had been working to push CBP to consider other options as well, pursuing multiple avenues to bring their message to CPB’s attention.
Tenney said she helped to facilitate a number of meetings with Walczyk, Gray, Reed and CBP officials involved in the project.
“We have made it abundantly clear that the north country does not want this station constructed in Blind Bay,” Tenney said. “It is vital we find a solution that works for all parties so the CBP can continue its critical mission of protecting our border and keeping our community safe.”
Walczyk, Gray and Reed said they are happy to see this latest announcement from CBP, and are looking forward to working with the agency as it continues its search for a new site.
“I know through open dialogue and public input, we’ll be able to work together to find a good site that will serve as the CBP north country station for decades to come,” Walcyk said.
Gray said he is intent on continuing to have a dialogue with CBP through the oncoming siting process.
“It is crucial to maintain an amicable relationship with CBP while finding an alternative location that meets their needs and ensures the protection of our northern border and enjoys the broader support of the community,” he said.
Reed thanked the members of the community who have added their voices to the push to have CBP consider an alternative site.
“I look forward to continuing to advocate for additional sites and will work with everyone to save Blind Bay and keep our community safe,” he said.
Peach of Save the River said he hopes that CBP continues to pay attention to the local voices as they look for their future site. He was wary that this news does not mean that CBP has taken Blind Bay out of the running, and said any future site that isn’t Blind Bay needs to have its environmental sensitivity evaluated closely.
“My concern is obviously that this facility they say they need is not located in an area that’s environmentally sensitive,” he said.
He’s been critical of the original environmental assessment conducted at Blind Bay in 2021 that began the public opposition to the project. That plan took little of the aquatic environment into consideration when evaluating the Blind Bay property CBP planned to build their station on, despite plans to dredge and build into the bay.
Peach also said he is hopeful that the new station will pay closer attention to light pollution, and does not match the lighting patterns they currently have at their Wellesley Island station.
But he spoke highly of Tenney and said without her involvement, which began with a visit to the bay even before she officially began representing the region in Congress, has helped tremendously.
“Frankly, I think we’d still be at a stalemate with CBP if she hadn’t gotten involved,” he said.