By Alex Gault, Watertown Daily Times November 24, 2022
FISHERS LANDING — The Thousand Islands Land Trust has officially purchased the Blind Bay property where U.S. Customs and Border Protection wants to build a Border Patrol station.
The 20.5-acre property between Route 12 and the St. Lawrence River on Blind Bay is now owned by the conservation group, which pledges to keep all the properties it purchases “forever wild,” free from development.
TILT already owns a significant amount of land along Blind Bay, recognized as a singularly important habitat for nearly 60 different native species, including the iconic muskellunge fish. The muskellunge, or muskie, has seen its numbers in the St. Lawrence River plummet over the last half century, and has only now started to see a resurgence thanks to conservation efforts in places across the islands, including in Blind Bay.
“Blind Bay is an ecological treasure and one of the most prolific breeding grounds for the muskellunge, the River’s apex predator,” said John M. Peach, executive director of Clayton-based Save the River. “The Bay is also home to more than 52 other fish species.”
Customs and Border Protection filed early plans to build a massive, 48,000-square-foot Border Patrol station on Blind Bay in the summer of 2021, drawing an early and intense response from the community. Landowners, business owners, conservationists, local officials and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., have protested the plan, which they say would destroy the character of the river shore with industrial development and permanently damage the sensitive ecosystem of the St. Lawrence River.
TILT paid $375,000 to purchase the property from Blind Bay Associates, with total purchase costs including appraisals and research on the property’s history reaching $425,000, financed with $280,000 in New York state water quality grants and $145,000 in donated funding.
But Customs and Border Protection keeps coming. TILT hoped that by buying the property and making clear that they will never sell the property, CBP would be convinced to go in another direction. But documents filed in federal court last month indicate CBP will seek a court order to send surveyors and other representatives of the federal government to the site anyway, to continue the mandated site selection process that could end with an eminent domain takeover of the property.
“CBP’s approach is shocking to say the least, especially on the heels of the town of Alexandria’s recreation center proposal and a growing bipartisan push for Border Patrol to find an alternative location,” said TILT Executive Director Jake R. Tibbles.