Forest City port proposal scaled down

Posted April 17, 2010, at 5:03 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:30 a.m.

FOREST CITY, Maine — U.S. Customs and Border Protection has scrapped a proposal to build a new, larger port of entry in Forest City and is moving forward with construction of a smaller facility on land owned by the government.

The decision, announced Friday evening, drew applause from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and from landowners in the area, who had expressed opposition to CBP’s original plan to demolish and replace the land port of entry with a larger and more expensive facility.

“This is a welcome change in the Department of Homeland Security’s plan for upgrading the Forest City port of entry,” Collins said Friday. “It addresses the concerns of local residents and will help ensure that taxpayer funds are not wasted on an unnecessarily large facility for a location that is well-known as a low-volume point of entry.”

Customs and Border Protection officials announced plans to revamp the Forest City port last month. A rural community at the border of Washington and Aroostook counties and New Brunswick, Forest City has no convenience stores, shopping centers or schools, and there are many more trees than people. Fewer than 10 people live permanently in the community, but the population swells to about 30 during the summer.

The Forest City border crossing is considered a “low-volume port of entry” because it is open less than 24 hours a day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed on Sundays and holidays.

Officials originally were considering a plan to construct an $8 million modernized, larger port of entry featuring enhanced technology and updated infrastructure. Officials with the agency said last month that the proposed facility, which included plans for a four-lane road to cross from the U.S. into Canada, would help prevent illegal activity and provide for better traffic control.

Agency officials said the upgrades were sought to improve CBP’s capacity to facilitate growing trade and travel while preventing illegal activity and the entry of terrorists, terrorist weapons and contraband.

Rafael Lemaitre, a CBP spokesman, said last month that the port is more than 40 years old and has “dilapidated infrastructure and outdated technology.”

He said the port, which has undergone no major renovations since it was built in 1964, has inadequate traffic control infrastructure, including only one primary inspection lane with no inspection booth, no pedestrian lane and no noncommercial secondary inspection area.

Residents in the community, concerned that a larger facility would disturb the quiet, peaceful quality of life they enjoy, immediately spoke out against the proposal.

Jane Johnson, a Forest City resident for more than 30 years, owns more than 3 acres that would have been directly affected by the original proposal. The Forest City crossing is just down the street from Johnson’s home. If the project were conducted as proposed, her land would have been filled in to accommodate the structure and a parking lot.

Johnson and other full-time and seasonal residents sought assistance from Collins, who is a ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

After Collins was contacted by the residents, she sent a letter to Thomas Winkowski, assistant commissioner of CBP, outlining the concerns of the Forest City constituents and stating her concern over “the unwise use of taxpayer dollars that would result from making major and unnecessary changes to the Forest City” port of en-try.

In a letter to Winkowski, Collins cited statistics pointing out that an average of fewer than five vehicles cross through the port each day, along with “extremely minimal truck traffic.”

The senator also met with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to discuss her concerns about the project.

Acting on a suggestion from Collins, Homeland Security officials met last month with local residents and listened to their concerns about the size of the project.

Johnson said Friday she “couldn’t be happier” about news that CBP will limit the scope of the project to land already owned by the government.

“I am really relieved,” said Johnson. “I also am extremely grateful to Senator Collins and her staff for working so hard on behalf of the residents here. I think that reason prevailed in this case. I am very happy.”

“I think that everyone here supports the mission of Customs and Border Protection,” she added. “But they can accomplish that mission without taking land to build a big structure like they originally had in mind.”

Bob Parker, another Forest City resident whose family first came to the area in 1902, also was pleased to hear the news.

“I think it was an excellent decision,” the 11-year resident said Saturday. “But they wasted a lot of time and money. If they would have sent someone with authority up here to look at the place before they announced this proposal, they would have saved themselves a lot of time and money.”

Parker said he also believed Collins had “a lot” to do with the decision to scrap the larger port.

“We thank her very much,” he said.

Officials with CBP were not available over the weekend to comment on what the new, smaller proposal for the Forest City port will look like. The project will be paid for with American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds.

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