By Alex Gault, Watertown Daily Times October 12, 2022
CLAYTON — On an unseasonably warm day Wednesday, Rep. Claudia L. Tenney rode up the St. Lawrence River with local officials and Save The River staff, to see the site where U.S. Customs and Border Protection plans to build its newest Border Patrol station.
The Republican congresswoman, who is running to represent the newly redistricted 24th Congressional District, added her voice to the list of local, state and federal officials who are opposed to the Blind Bay Border Patrol station.
Since early 2021, CBP officials have been publicly considering building a new Border Patrol station in Blind Bay between Fishers Landing and Alexandria Bay, offering up plans for a massive, 50,000-square-foot facility with dog kennels, a parking garage and boat docks.
Local residents have been nearly universally opposed for a variety of reasons, such as the environmental sensitivity of Blind Bay and the damage an industrial building on the shoreline would do to the aesthetics of the St. Lawrence River.
“My impression is that this would not be an ideal outcome, to put this facility based on what’s been described to me, with 40,000-plus square feet, dog kennels, in what looks like a pretty pristine, quiet part of the world,” she said. “My question is, why here?”
CBP officials have said they are paying attention to the opposition they’ve heard, but continue to consider Blind Bay as the optimum location for their facility. They are a little over halfway through the federal location finding and siting process, known as the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA process, that is meant to take local opinions, environmental conditions, and the needs of the agency into account when constructing a new federal facility.
She said she’s been pleased to see that local officials still support the mission of CBP, and have been intentional in offering up a solution to the Blind Bay proposition that would satisfy everyone involved.
“(These local officials) wanted to make sure that we focus on the logistics, on the actual why we’re here, and find an alternative, and make sure we preserve this beautiful section of the St. Lawrence Seaway,” she said.
Alexandria town officials have offered up a portion of the Bonnie Castle Stables recreation center property they recently acquired, proposing that CBP officials build their Border Patrol station on the opposite side of Route 12, further back from the shoreline but still within a short distance of a boat launch point.
Rep. Tenney said she wasn’t familiar with their proposition specifically, but is supportive and was happy to see local officials taking the initiative to offer an alternative to the Blind Bay plan they oppose.
“I want to do everything I can to help them in their mission to try to make sure that we get the right solution, I’d love to go see what that alternative is,” she said.
Over a two-hour boat ride from Clayton to Blind Bay and back, Rep. Tenney saw some of the river’s most iconic views. Mr. Reed and John M. Peach, executive director of Save the River, who joined Rep. Tenney on the ride, said they felt she was thoughtful, engaged and willing to learn about the issue.
“This wasn’t a fly-by visit, she was really listening and taking notes,” Mr. Reed said.
Mr. Peach said their visit to Blind Bay Wednesday showed how low the water levels are, and how damaging a commercial-style development on Blind Bay could be.
“The water is very low,” he said. “We’re nearing historic low-water levels, as we typically do in October, but it occurred to me that if CBP was running boats through there now, they’d need to dredge it out another four, four and a half feet.”
He said that would be catastrophic for the 52 species that use the bay, including the iconic muskellunge fish.
He said he expects Rep. Tenney will keep on this issue if she is elected to represent the district next month, and he is excited to see another representative in their corner.
Rep. Tenney said that’s exactly what she plans to do, as the long NEPA siting process moves forward.
“I’m dedicated to watching this whole process, and making sure the local governments especially, and the local residents and homeowners and people here get a full process,” she said.