By Alex Gault, Watertown Daily Times October 23, 2022
FISHERS LANDING — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said they will seek a court order to get on-site at the Blind Bay property where they plan to build a Border Patrol station, according to a letter mailed to the property’s current ownership this month.
In a letter dated Sept. 19, recently received by Blind Bay Associates and the Thousand Islands Land Trust, CBP officials said they are seeking an order from federal court allowing them to enter the property on Blind Bay for a period of 12 months to conduct surveys on the site.
“Because the government has an immediate need to enter your property to conduct the necessary surveys, we have determined that it will be necessary to file an action in federal district court to allow us to enter for these purposes,” the letter reads.
Three Mile Bay Associates currently owns the property, which TILT has agreed to purchase, and TMB Associates have sent CBP officials a letter expressly denying them access to the property, according to Jake Tibbles, TILT’s executive director.
“It’s really surprising that they continue to take this approach, and be adamant that they’re going to keep evaluating and assessing Blind Bay,” Mr. Tibbles said. “Given everything that has occurred, all the voices that have been added to this discussion, and on the heels of the proposal from the town of Alexandria to utilize the rec center for the proposed facility, it’s really surprising.”
After CBP published its preliminary plans to buy the property and construct a massive, 50,000-square-foot facility with docks, kennels, administrative space and a parking garage on the site in mid-2021, local officials, residents and environmentalists rallied against those plans. Blind Bay is currently undeveloped, and plays host to dozens of species, like the iconic muskellunge fish which has seen its numbers drop significantly in the St. Lawrence River over the last 50 years.
Once TILT purchased the Blind Bay property, local officials offered CBP a deal to purchase or rent a portion of the Bonnie Castle Stables recreation center property, which the town of Alexandria purchased last year. That plan would give the town the capital to develop their part of the Stables, while giving CBP a site near but not on the water to build their Border Patrol station on.
Mr. Tibbles said the current owners of the Blind Bay property agree with TILT that CBP should never develop the site, and have barred the agency from accessing the property. Once TILT completes their purchase, likely in early November, they will similarly bar the agency from accessing the property.
But a federal court order could make that irrelevant, and Mr. Tibbles said he remains concerned that CBP could try and use eminent domain to take the property by force, as this next step to evaluate the property indicates they still are continuing on with their plan to build their station there despite TILT’s express unwillingness to sell it.
The letter from CBP also states that funds will be set aside in an escrow account to cover any potential damages done by the surveyors, but does not specify what surveys will be conducted or what kind of damage they could do to the property.
“What type of vehicles, equipment, staff numbers would be required to do these surveys?,” he asked. “It’s just another point of concern, what do these surveys entail? And I think this just speaks to the vagueness, lack of transparency, that we have been dealing with.”
TILT, Save the River and local officials said they have not heard much of a response from CBP officials despite multiple attempts at opening a dialogue and the advocacy of the region’s federal representatives like Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Congresswoman Claudia L. Tenney.
Mr. Tibbles said TILT will have to be named in the federal suit, and will be given an opportunity to respond once CBP files its case.
“At this time, the 1000 Islands Land Trust Board of Trustees, myself and staff leadership are in agreement that we will take the necessary legal steps to defend that property in any way, shape or forms,” he said. “And that includes this access that they are requesting.”