FOREST CITY TOWNSHIP, Maine — A year after residents of this tiny border community derided them for proposing to build a $15 million port of entry facility here, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials Thursday evening presented a scaled-down version of the plans.
The new plans seemed to appease the 20 or so residents of Forest City proper and the surrounding communities of Brookton and Danforth who came to look at the blueprints.
CBP officials hosted a four-hour open house just down the road from the existing port facility in this aptly named city of trees in northeastern Washington County on the border of Aroostook County and New Brunswick.
There are no convenience stores, shopping centers or schools here, and residents who attended Thursday’s open house represented the bulk of people who live in or near Forest City year-round. Fewer than 10 people live permanently in Forest City, but the population swells to about 30 during the summer.
Many of those residents were rankled last March when the government announced that it had allocated federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Funds to build a new, larger port of entry to replace the facility built in 1962.
The border crossing is considered a “low-volume port of entry” that is open only from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and is closed on Sundays and holidays. Officials said Thursday that an average of 6.6 cars pass through the port each day.
Officials originally were considering a new port featuring enhanced technology and updated infrastructure, which included plans for a four-lane road to cross from the U.S. into Canada. That plan also required the acquisition of some of an abutting landowner’s property to accommodate the project. After pressure from area landowners and intervention from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who also expressed opposition to CBP’s original proposal, plans were scaled back to the now-approved 4,500-square-foot, $5.4 million facility. It will be built on the existing footprint of the current port.
Ruth Zolock, director of the program support division of the field operations facilities of the CBP program management office, said Thursday night that officials had heard “very positive” comments from the residents who saw the rendering of the new facility. That was confirmed by Robert Hardbarger, chief of the Engineering and Construction Support Office Special Programs Branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“We got some great feedback, and from what we can tell, they are very appreciative that we considered their feedback and went with the scaled-back model,” he said.
The new port is needed, according to CBP officials, to prevent illegal activity and provide for better traffic control. It also will enhance safety, as the existing port has no inspection booth or holding cell for violators, inadequate fire and life safety systems, a poor vehicle-entry perimeter, inadequate lighting, and the presence of hazardous materials. The new port will have more workstations and office space; holding, interview and search rooms; an inbound inspection booth; a vehicle garage; perimeter fencing; lighting; and gates and other security measures.
Geoffrey Rogers, an architect with Overland Corp., the project’s general contractor, said the new building also will be more energy-efficient. It will have more efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning; indirect solar heating panels to provide for water heating; plumbing fixtures and high-efficiency irrigation equipment to promote reduced water usage; and more.
Crews will erect a temporary port, demolish the existing building and then build the new port where the old port once was. Construction will begin next month and will be completed in June 2012.
Hardbarger said it will cost the same amount of money or even less to run the new port.
Two Forest City residents who did not want to give their names said Thursday night that they were happy with what they heard from CBP officials. Both said they believe that residents have accepted plans for the new port.
“It wasn’t like we didn’t want to see the existing building upgraded; it was just that the initial plans were just so massive,” said one woman. “It just seemed like a waste of scarce taxpayer dollars. I am glad they listened to us, and I think that the scaled-back port is the way to go.”
Bob Parker, who has lived in Forest City for 12 years, also was pleased to hear the news.
“They have done a pretty good job,” he said Friday afternoon. “I think everyone agrees. We are pleased that it is not going to be the big monstrosity that it was first suggested it would be and they are not going to need to take land from anyone to do it. It doesn’t look bad at all.”