Hochul urges rethinking of Blind Bay border facility

By Alex Gault, Watertown Daily Times on February 7, 2024

FISHERS LANDING — Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul doesn’t want to see a Customs and Border Protection station built on Blind Bay in the Thousand Islands.

Hochul has added her voice to those of local residents, environmental activists, local business owners and elected officials from the town and village level all the way to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

A spokesperson for Hochul shared a statement laying out the governor’s position late Tuesday, which was first reported by WWNY-TV, Channel 7 News.

“Blind Bay is a natural beauty and important ecosystem that must be preserved and protected, which is why Governor Hochul urges the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to consider alternative locations proposed by the local communities and stakeholders that will still fit the needs for its expanded facility,” the spokesperson said.

The issue of the CBP station on Blind Bay has been a contentious one for more than two years. In February 2022, CBP officials quietly published a report laying out a plan to build a nearly 50,000-squarefoot facility on Blind Bay in the town of Orleans, right along the St. Lawrence River shore. It would house 75 agents and their vehicles, boats, dogs and other equipment on about 20 acres of land between the river and Route 12.

That plan was met with swift, near universal opposition from local residents, business owners, and elected officials at the local, state and federal levels. Local leaders have worked to engage with CBP on the issue, and have secured a commitment from CBP officials to engage in the site selection process in a more open manner and to consider more sites than just Blind Bay.

CBP recently identified another property in Clayton, at the location of the current Dockside Cottages vacation rental group, which has been met with similar opposition.

Jeffrey T. Garnsey, president of the Save the River board of directors, in Blind Bay, Fishers Landing, on an afternoon in April 2022. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is still considering the Blind Bay shoreline for a new Border Patrol station, almost three years after agency studies began and despite nearly two years of public pushback from local environmental advocates, property owners, business leaders and government officials.

On Tuesday afternoon, Save the River Executive Director John M. Peach, who has been spearheading the fight to save Blind Bay from development, said he was pleased to see another prominent voice come in on the side of the environment in the north country.

“Going down this road with the governor’s backing puts us in a much stronger position,” he said.

Local officials are continuing to work to engage with CBP on the Blind Bay issue. Some have pitched a plan to provide land on the other side of Route 12, at the location of the former Bonnie Castle Stables facility, currently owned by the town of Alexandria, but CBP officials do not appear to have put that location on their preferred list of properties.

CBP will release another draft report identifying plans for the Clayton property and potential issues that could come with its development. A timeline for development remains unclear.

Learn more