Thousand Islands Land Trust says Blind Bay purchase gives legal standing against CBP

By Isabella Colello, ABC 50 November 30, 2022

ORLEANS, N.Y. (WWTI) — The community is continuing its fight to “Save Blind Bay.”

On November 18, the Thousand Islands Land Trust officially purchased all undeveloped waterfront in the area known as Blind Bay.

Blind Bay, located in the Town of Orleans on the St. Lawrence River, is being considered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for a 48,000-square-foot border patrol facility. This was proposed by CBP in early 2022.

The proposal received significant pushback from the community as Blind Bay has significant ecological values and is home to many wetland bird populations and over 52 species of fish.

“It’s one of those transition zones,” Save The River Assistant Director Lauren Eggleston said. “Everything from in the water to what’s on land and everything that travels in between those two places, those all thrive in a habitat like this.”

TILT, Save The River and thousands of community members submitted letters of opposition throughout the summer and formed a coalition called “Save Blind Bay.”

“The coalition has been following the process and really waiting for TILT to close on the property,” Save The River Executive Director John Peach said. “But frankly, TILT, Save The River and all these other organizations in the coalition support CBP’s mission, but they need to be somewhere where they’re not going to ruin an environmental treasure.”

The Thousand Islands Land Trust acquired the site in April, including 295 feet of undeveloped waterfront.

However, in September, CBP confirmed that it was moving ahead with the project and preparing a draft Supplement Environmental Assessment.

TILT then officially purchased the land from Blind Bay Associates on November 18, 2022. As the official owners of the bay, TILT Executive Director Jake Tibbles said this will protect the bay against development, but also give the Land Trust legal footing against CBP.

“Our goal is to conserve it, enhance it and keep it that way forever,” Tibbles said.

Tibbles explained that the main concern now is that following CBP’s draft environmental assessment, the agency will proceed with an eminent domain. However, Tibbles said that TILT’s ownership would give the Land Trust legal footing in court.

“When you are the actual landowner and your purpose of the ownership of the land is public benefit, to support ecological integrity, that’s a strong argument if we end up in a court of law,” Tibbles shared. “This has truly galvanized the entire river community.”

CBP previously said the draft SEA will be available in 2023.

We did reach out to Customs and Border Protection regarding TILT’s purchase of Blind Bay but are awaiting a response.

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