Border Patrol move almost a certainty; no special permits needed, official says

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES -- Short of citizen protests or refusal by the Eagles lodge, little is standing in the way of the U.S. Border Patrol relocating to a larger building that would allow the agency to double its staff to 50 agents, officials said Monday.

The deadline was Friday for public comments on the beginning phase of the agency's planned move from crowded quarters at the Richard B. Anderson Federal Building downtown to the larger Fraternal Order of Eagles building at U.S. Highway 101 and South Penn Street about 1 ¼ miles east.

Customs and Border Protection, under which the Border Patrol operates, plans to remodel the building, while Eagles Aerie 483 members would move to smaller, more manageable quarters.

Border Patrol Environmental Program Manager Charles Parsons, who is conducting an environmental assessment of the Eagles property and hosted a July 27 public meeting on the project, did not return calls for comment Monday on the next step in the process.

He said in an earlier interview there will be further opportunities for public comment.

Last week, the group Stop the Checkpoints demonstrated against the move and spoke against it at a City Council meeting.

But the Border Patrol would be allowed at the new location without any special land-use permits, city Planning Director Nathan West said Monday.

"The zoning is commercial-arterial, and in commercial-arterial, businesses and professional offices such as what they are indicating in a recent notice of intent document would seem to comply and be a permitted use for that zone," West said.

"As far as the details of what the Border Patrol is proposing, I haven't seen any details other than the notice of intent to prepare environmental documentation."

Stop the Checkpoints Coordinator Lois Danks said Monday that she was surprised the use would be allowed without special permits or review.

"I don't know what to say," she said.

"I don't think people with weapons and law enforcement vehicles is the same as commercial offices. They do carry weapons and do arrest people and they do law enforcement.

"It seems like that would be different than a commercial business office."

Like the current Border Patrol station at 138 W. First St., which is also in a heavily commercial area, the new headquarters would include holding cells that would not be used for long-term detention, officials have said.

Danks said her group may try to persuade Eagles members to vote against selling the building, though lodge officials said their membership numbers can't support the upkeep.

Stop the Checkpoints also is trying to get a face-to-face meeting with U.S. Rep Norm Dicks, whose 6th Congressional District includes the North Olympic Peninsula, to ask him to help block the $8 million that's available for the project, Danks said.

But the funding has already been appropriated, and only the president can stop it from being spent, Dicks' spokesman, George Behan, said.

"That presumes there is a logic here, and I'm not sure what it is," he said.

"I understand the concerns about the Border Patrol there and what people view as excessive use of the checkpoints, but I would have to look at a proposal."

Border Patrol spokeswoman Jenny Burke said Monday that the agency will not release any information on the number of arrests made by agents who work out of the Port Angeles station, the names of those arrested, what they were arrested for and the disposition of their cases

The names of those arrested and other facts about them are not available for release under the 1974 Privacy Act, she said.

The number of arrests for Port Angeles' or any other station is "law enforcement-sensitive," Burke said.

Revealing the total "relays to the public what vulnerabilities there could be at any particular location."

The Border Patrol arrested 599 individuals in fiscal year 2007 in the Blaine Sector, which include Alaska, Oregon and the western half of Washington.

There were 2,246 arrests in 2008 and 1,882 in 2009.

The federal government's fiscal year is from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

Pili Meyer, the real estate listing agent for the Eagles site, learned Friday from the Border Patrol's real estate representative that "an offer is making its way here" for the building, Meyer said Monday.

The Border Patrol has said it intends to make an offer for the Eagles building and property, and Meyer expects it to arrive by early next week, she said.

The property is listed for $1.9 million and is assessed at $2.2 million.

Meyer attended an Eagles meeting last week to give members an update.

"I tried to remind them we can't make any decision until we see an offer," she said.

"I am confident we are going to get an offer, but that is all I'm confident of," Meyer added.

"I have no idea how good the offer is, or what is going to happen to the offer.

Border Patrol officials have said it's agency policy to build new Border Patrol stations for a capacity of at least 50 agents but insist there are no immediate plans to increase staff in Port Angeles to that level.

The current quarters at the federal building were designed to house four agents, the total until 2006.

By April 2009, the number grew to 24. Now it's 25.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 23. 2010 11:25PM
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