By Alex Gault, Watertown Daily Times on June 16, 2022
FISHERS LANDING — The Thousand Islands Land Trust has agreed to pay $375,000 to acquire the Blind Bay property previously eyed by Customs and Border Protection for an expansive new station.
On April 13, TILT announced it had reached an agreement to acquire over 20 acres of land, with nearly 300 feet of St. Lawrence shoreline, along Route 12E in the town of Orleans. The property, currently vacant and undeveloped, had been the source of much controversy in the river communities after it was announced in 2021 that U.S. CBP was interested in purchasing the land and building a 48,000-square foot facility.
The facility, including kennels, docks, boat-washes, a parking garage and more of the required infrastructure for an operating CBP base, worried environmentalist and local residents.
Blind Bay, a small inlet off of the St. Lawrence River between Fisher’s Landing and Alexandria Bay, is known as a prolific breeding ground for muskellunge. The large pike fish are iconic of the Thousand Islands, but their numbers were seriously dwindling in the region about 20 years ago. Through conservation efforts and environmental cleanups, the fish have started to make a resurgence in the region, and Blind Bay is known to host many of them during the springtime breeding season.
TILT was encouraged to purchase the land from its private owners, Blind Bay Associates LLC., to add to their list of conserved lands, but were initially unable to divulge the purchase price.
“$375,000, that’s the negotiated purchase price for the property,” said Jake R. Tibbles, executive director of TILT, in an interview on Thursday.
The costs of purchasing the property, including appraisals, documentation and due diligence research on its history, TILT is paying $425,000 in total.
Mr. Tibbles said TILT was able to secure about $280,000 of state water quality grants to finance the purchase, accounting for about 75% of purchase price. TILT is still raising the remaining $145,000 for the remaining purchase and property research costs.
“We are at the tail end of that,” Mr. Tibbles said
Once the acquisition is finalized, TILT will retain control of the property in perpetuity, and will preserve it as a “forever wild” space. The property will be formally adjoined to a neighboring 16-acre preserve TILT already owns, creating about 35 acres of undeveloped preserve land along the St. Lawrence River.
When TILT agreed to purchase the property, they essentially ended any chance that CBP would build a new station on Blind Bay. Mr. Tibbles said he, TILT and many of those in the community understand the agencies need for a new base of operations, after they’ve outgrown their existing base on Wellesley Island over three times. TILT offered its services to CBP to help them locate a new site that would be suitable for their needs and less environmentally impactful.
“We have not heard from CBP,” he said Thursday.
Mr. Tibbles said he has heard word that CBP has restarted the process of finding a site for their facility, something he said is encouraging.
“The Land Trust has identified several properties that have been brought forth to CBP,” he said. “Some of those properties we believe internally are much more compatible with the development they’re talking about.”
He said he would like to see CBP make a public comment, acknowledging that they have moved on from the Blind Bay facility plan.
“I think that would be a great opportunity for CBP to publicize those, or at least make a statement so the community, the local stakeholders can feel comfortable, knowing they’re being listened to,” Mr. Tibbles said.
According to a CBP spokesperson, the agency is still looking into a new site for a relocated Border Patrol station.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is looking into feasible properties around the region of a station relocation, but the process is long and any planning is being done without any decisions made as of yet,” the spokesperson said. “The current Wellesley Island station remains Border Patrol’s sole operational facility in the area.”