Fight to ‘Save Blind Bay’ could end up in court

By Isabella Colello, ABC50, August 10, 2023

ORLEANS, N.Y. (WWTI) — Things are heating up in the fight to “Save Blind Bay.”

This is the site Customs and Border Protection has previously considered for a 48,000-square-foot border patrol facility.

However, this proposal has created community-wide upset due to Blind Bay’s pristine aquatic, shoreline and wetland ecosystems.

On August 9, Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (R-24) confirmed that Customs and Border Protection is planning to also evaluate other sites outside of Blind Bay.

“As a tenacious advocate for our district, I brought the concerns of our communities to the table during these important discussions. We have made it extraordinarily clear that the North Country does not want this station constructed in Blind Bay. It is vital we find a solution that works for all parties so the CBP can continue in its critical mission of protecting our border and keeping our community safe,” Rep. Tenney said in a press release.

This announcement was made following a recent in-person meeting CBP had with local officials on Wellesley Island. State Senator Mark Walczyk (R-49), Assemblyman Scott Gray (R-116) and Jefferson County Legislator Phil Reed sat in on this meeting.

“A big part of the conversation was about the importance of dialogue with the locals that are impacted with whatever site Customs and Border Protection wants to use for their new facility,” Senator Walczyk explained. “So we’re working with CBP to find a suitable location that is not Blind Bay.”

According to the lawmakers, this was the first time since the controversy started nearly two years ago that CBP has directly discussed the proposal.

“I think we’re moving forward,” Assemblyman Gray said. “The fact that we’re having conversations, the fact that we’re actually sitting at the table, face to face with one another is progress.”

“In my tenure as a county legislator I’ve never seen an issue that had 100% of the people on one side,” Legislator Reed added. “The constituency has spoken out. This is not the proper place for it.”

But although the Thousand Islands Land Trust owns all of the undeveloped waterfront, Blind Bay is not off the table. TILT Executive Director Jake Tibbles said they are preparing for a legal battle.

“This is likely to end up in court,” Tibbles expressed. “The first strategy for Customs and Border Protection is to gain access to the property. We’re committed to ensuring that they don’t step foot on the property now, or moving into the future.”

TILT said if a legal case does progress, CBP could file for eminent domain, which could result in a loss of Blind Bay.

In a statement, CBP said the following regarding recent developments:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) remains looking into feasible properties around the region for a station relocation, but the process is long and any planning is being done without any decisions made as of yet.  However, the current Wellesley Island station remains Border Patrol’s sole operational facility in the area.MIKE NIEZGODA, PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, BUFFALO FIELD OFFICE

So now advocates from both the Thousand Islands Land Trust and Save the River are rallying the community and have asked for help to fight the battle.

“This is the first time in my 50 years of environmental advocacy that I’ve seen a community 100% behind an environmental issue,” Save The River Executive Director John Peach said. “I’m feeling like we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Customs and Border Protection has yet to make a list of potential sites public.

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