VAN BUREN, Maine — The state’s newest port of entry facility was officially unveiled Thursday morning with a ceremonial ribbon cutting and announcement of its new commercial designation.
The Van Buren port’s buildings and entry lanes, connecting Maine to St. Leonard, N.B., sustained massive damages during a May 1, 2008 flood.
Since then, U.S. Customs and Border Protection staff have been working out of a temporary doublewide trailer.
Three buildings on the 22-acre site now provide 44,000 square feet of space to accommodate the 176,000 vehicles that use the border crossing annually, according to information provided Thursday by the U.S. General Services Administration, which oversaw the $46 million project.
Officials in Washington, D.C., and Boston joined in the ceremony thanks to a computer video link.
“This port is incredible,” GSA regional commissioner Glenn Rotondo said Thursday at the ceremony in the empty commercial vehicle inspection garage. “Going from the devastation of the flood to a fully functioning facility is a testimony of how well GSA local team members worked together on a number of complicated issues.”
Designation as a commercial port means commercial traffic coming into the country from Canada may now use the Van Buren port instead of detouring to the next closest commercial entry in Houlton, Rotondo said.
“Being able to cross their merchandise here will allow companies to save time and money,” he said.
The facility was built using an award-winning design by Julie Snow Architects Inc. It includes geothermal heating and cooling supplied by 50 400-feet wells, a solar hot water system, energy-efficient lighting and solar tubes to provide passive-solar light to several rooms and has been open to traffic since June.
“This facility is fantastic,” said port director Patricia Scull, as she led a tour through the buildings. “We went from working out of a double wide [trailer] to having everything we need to do our jobs in all this space and out of the elements.”
The new facility has four lanes for incoming traffic, two garages for large vehicle inspection, separate enclosed areas for K-9 units, training areas for agents, an agricultural testing lab and state of the art technology.
Throughout the construction phase, which began in 2011, staff members with U.S. Customs and Border Protection were consulted on how to configure the facility to best meet their needs.
“We knew what we needed to do our jobs,” she said. “We stayed on top of things to make sure once the [port of entry] was operational, it met our needs.”
For security reasons, Scull could not say how many CBP agents work at the Van Buren facility nor could she allow photos of the staff members.
GSA Administrator Daniel Tangherlini said from his Washington link that the agency was “proud to be part of this. This port marks a crucial investment in the infrastructure that ensures the country’s safety and commerce.”
Those advocating for the new facility included Sen. Susan Collins, an Aroostook County native.
“It was essential that we worked together to build a new, permanent facility to accommodate the needs of the people and businesses who rely on this port of entry and of those who work here,” she said from Washington, where she was joined by Sen. Angus King. “It was crucial that we uphold the principle that America’s borders will always be open to our friends but closed to those who would do us harm.”