Coast Guard to house Border Patrol
Jane Howard, Cook County Star
Plans for a Homeland Security compound in Grand Marais have been cancelled due to U.S. Customs and Border Protection budgetary constraints, according to David Hicks, construction project manager with Nortell Government Solutions, a company that handles building projects for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The Border Patrol has instead worked out an agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard to use its building on the Grand Marais harbor for office space.
In March of this year, County Commissioner Bob Fenwick was told by Congressman Jim Oberstar at a National Association of Counties meeting in Washington D.C. that a Homeland Security site would be situated in Cook County. County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers said the county has had difficulty getting any information on the government's plans for that facility. The county was originally told the government had a 15-year plan for a site in Cook County.
The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) began advertising for space for a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in the summer of 2006. GSA is a branch of the federal government that assists federal agencies in finding and building "superior workplaces" at "best value." The county thought it might lease some of its land to a national real estate company that specializes in constructing buildings for and leasing buildings to the government.
Four firms have talked to the county about submitting bids for a building at the municipal airport near Devil's Track Lake, one of the sites that was considered. Two of those bidders subsequently informed Powers that GSA was no longer considering the airport site.
David Hicks confirmed that a new station had been planned for Grand Marais. Hicks was in Grand Marais at the beginning of April, looking at current facilities and options for the future.
The facility that had been proposed would have included a 15,000 square foot building with garages, a helipad, and fencing. "We don't have the money to do what we had planned," said Hicks. New facilities are still planned for Duluth and International Falls. A building in Cook County could be pursued in the future, but a decision was made to put money toward personnel rather than property right now.
The government is in the process of hiring as many as 9,000 new Border Patrol officers. Many of them will be located on the country's northern border. "Right now our northern border is not as secure as our southern border," said Hicks. "If anyone was going to come into the country to do some damage, they would come into the northern border. The northern border has not been the primary focus. It needs attention."
Hicks said local Border Patrol officers contacted the Coast Guard about the possibility of using the Coast Guard building in Grand Marais for office space. The current Border Patrol building on the east end of Grand Marais will still be used. It has a holding room and a processing room, so all illegal aliens will be taken there rather than to the Coast Guard station.
No changes or additions to the outside of the Coast Guard building are planned. The inside will have some new paint, carpeting, and furniture. The public will still have access to the Point and the lighthouse. Hicks does not think any Border Patrol signage will be placed outside the Coast Guard station.
Cook County is one of eight divisions in the Grand Forks sector of the Border Patrol. According to Hicks, a new facility has not been built in the Grand Forks sector since the 1960's. The old facilities don't meet today's standards and requirements, and with so many new officers being hired, more space will be needed for them to do their processing and paperwork. Now that the coast guard facility is available, there are other facilities that are in much greater need of upgrading, said Hicks.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is part of Homeland Security. Customs officers process people as they cross the American border. When someone illegally drives through the port of entry, Border Patrol officers are contacted because the situation is no longer within the jurisdiction of Customs. U.S. Customs focuses on ports of entry, mostly processing people who are trying to cross the border legally, whereas Border Patrol assists with port of entry violations and patrols the nation's borders, catching people who are in violation of the law and are trying to avoid the port of entry.
"We were on the verge of trying to get one of the sites for building in Grand Marais," said Hicks. When money became an issue, the project plans were cancelled.