Customs facility in Calais on track to open next fall

Posted Jan. 06, 2009, at 9:18 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — Once it is completed in November, the $50 million U.S. Customs House will be a state-of-the-art sight to behold.

Situated on a 54-acre parcel that abuts the St. Croix River, the facility covers nearly 100,000 square feet in buildings, canopies and parking — and offers a striking first impression of what soon will be a “gateway” to America.

The facility is part of the third-bridge project that soon will connect Calais with neighboring St. Stephen, New Brunswick. Two other bridges — the downtown Ferry Point Bridge and the nearby Milltown Bridge — already serve as connectors to Canada. The Calais-St. Stephen port of entry is the eighth-busiest in the nation.

On Tuesday, officials from both sides of the international border, including representatives of Maine’s U.S. congressional delegation, toured the new facility, which is about 70 percent complete.

Their tour guides were officials from the General Services Administration, the agency that oversees the construction project.

Although Dennis R. Smith, GSA regional administrator, has been one of the driving forces behind the project since its inception, his visit Tuesday will be his last. Smith said he is retiring later this month. “As you can see, we’ve made a lot of progress,” Smith said. “Everything is on track.”

Fred Amey, GSA project manager for property development, said that although the building was designed with security as a primary concern, energy and environmental needs also were considered. The project team has submitted a draft report to the U.S. Green Building Council for review.

“The USGBC program is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings,” GSA said in its written progress report to the city.

“I think what we are seeing is that this is state-of-the-art as far as technology goes, as far as security goes and as far as the environment and energy [go],” Smith said. “So all those areas that all had their own special concerns have been brought together to make this building an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and secure state-of-the art facility.”

City Manager Diane Barnes, who participated in the tour, said she was pleased with the progress. “This is so positive for this area,” she said.

St. Stephen Mayor Jed Purcell, who also toured the facility, said Canadians were ready to go. The project on their side of the border includes a road to the bridge and a new customs facility that is complete.

“We’re ready,” the mayor said with a laugh. “All we have to do is open the bridge.”

But vehicles are not expected to be processed at the new border crossing until November when construction is expected to be completed.

Once the new facility opens, the Department of Homeland Security staff at the Calais crossings is expected to increase from 75 to 100 customs officers.

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