By Jonathon Wheeler, Watertown Daily Times April 30, 2023
FISHERS LANDING — United States Customs and Border Control representatives are putting pressure on the Thousand Island Land Trust in order to gain access to Blind Bay, so that they can complete environmental studies on the land, according to John Peach, executive director of Save the River said.
TILT acquired the property in November, and we’re expecting to engage the CBP, but TILT Executive Director Jake Tibbles said it was “radio silent.”
He said their hope was that CBP had heard the concerns from the community, and had decided to consider other alternatives.
“It’s starting to look like … probably in the last two weeks, about 10 to 14 days CBP through Army Corps of Engineers which acts as basically a real estate agent for Customs and Border Protection, reengaged the Land Trust looking to obtain a copy of the deed to Blind Bay,” he said. “Obviously, that’s a red flag to us. Clearly it means that they’re continuing to evaluate that as a possible site.”
He said CBP pursued TILT for right of entry and they said they told CBP that before access was provided, a sit-down conference was wanted with decision makers to give information about alternatives.
TILT owns a significant amount of land along Blind Bay, which is known to be a habitat for almost 60 different native species, including muskellunge fish. The species, otherwise known as muskie, has seen numbers in the previous half century plummet, but has now started to see a resurgence because of conservation efforts across the islands, including Blind Bay.
“From our vantage point, yes this is one of those scenarios where we’re saying ‘Not in our backyard,’ but instead of standing on that platform and saying ‘No not here’ we made a commitment to be a part of the solution,” Mr. Tibbles said. “We want to work and be willing participants in assisting CBP in moving this forward because we believe in their mission and recognize its importance along the border, but at the same time, we also believe that they can accomplish their mission while not impacting some of our region’s most ecologically important resources.”
He said the interest to gain entry to the property to complete their environmental studies is concerning.
“The fact that they aren’t willing to consider any alternative locations until they’ve completed all environmental studies on Blind Bay is alarming,” Mr. Tibbles said.
He said CBP should listen to information from the community by looking elsewhere, see if there is a compromise, and see if there are any alternatives.
Customs and Border Protection had filed early plans to build a 48,000-square-foot Border Patrol station on Blind Bay back in the summer of 2021. This drew an early and intense response from the community.
Landowners, business owners, conservationists, local officials, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., had protested the plan saying that it would destroy the character of the river shore with industrial development and permanently damage the sensitive ecosystem of the St. Lawrence River.