By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Border Patrol activities will be the focus of a protest today at the planned site of a new Port Angeles building for Border Patrol agents.
The Stop the Checkpoints Committee plans a May Day Rally from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at East First and Penn streets, where Homeland Security will begin work to modify the former Eagles Aerie building into new Border Patrol headquarters.
The rally will be in support of worker and immigrant rights, said organizers with the group, which protests “the erosion of civil rights and liberties on the North Olympic Peninsula by the U.S. Border Patrol,” according to www.stopthecheckpoints.com.
Those attending are asked to bring signs, noisemakers, drums and banners.
David Cowan, member of Stop the Checkpoints, said a new Border Patrol headquarters in Port Angeles does not have any “long-term benefits” to the North Olympic Peninsula.
“It’s a manufactured need,” he said. “The need has not been established.”
The money could be better spent on the nation’s southern border, Cowan added.
The new facility is part of a broader federal effort to upgrade Border Patrol facilities, said project manager Mike Sangren of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday.
“This money was earmarked at least last year for these projects,” he said, noting Bellingham also is getting a new Border Patrol headquarters.
“It’s just the direction the Department of Homeland Security has been given, to expand and allocate money to build stations, and we are just executing their plan,” he said.
The Border Patrol denied a Peninsula Daily News request for arrest data for the Port Angeles station, citing national security concerns.
The agency instead provided arrest data for the Blaine Sector, which includes Alaska, Oregon and the western half of Washington.
Border Patrol agents made 673 arrests in the 2010 fiscal year ending Sept. 30, a 20 percent drop from 2009 and about two for every agent.
The entire sector has 322 agents at stations in Port Angeles, Blaine, Bellingham and Sumas, the Border Patrol said.
Paul Gottlieb, Peninsula Daily News
Project manager Mike Sangren of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Friday the building at 110 Penn St. east of downtown Port Angeles will be gutted, the inside redone and a new roof put on in two to three weeks.
The 19,000-square-foot Border Patrol station “will just look newer on the outside” when the $5.7 million construction project is completed by April 2012, Sangren said.
The 3.4-acre site also will include a 40-foot radio tower, three dog runs, a kennel and a chain-link fence topped by razor wire, with the outside lighted at night.
Inside will be two holding cells, the same number as in the current, smaller Border Patrol headquarters at the Richard B. Anderson Federal Building at 138 W. First St., which Border Patrol officials said the agency has outgrown.
In 2006, four agents worked in the Port Angeles headquarters.
That number had increased to 25 as of August.
The new facility will be built for up to 50 agents, a standard size for the agency’s headquarters.
Sangren said there are no plans to expand the agent numbers for coverage of Clallam and Jefferson counties.
But the draft environmental impact statement for the project said: “Future staff expansion is anticipated for the Port Angeles station.”
The Corps of Engineers is building a 75-agent station in Bellingham.
Building plans are standardized.
“It does not make financial sense to custom-build a station for every location,” Sangren said.
Blackhawk Constructors LLC of San Antonio won the contract for the project.
The outside lighting at the new facility will be half as bright as the Ruddell Auto Mall vehicle dealership just east of the building, according to the draft environmental impact statement for the project.
After waiting several months — the Corps of Engineers and the Eagles agreed on the $2 million purchase price at least five months ago — the Eagles have been on the fast track for the past two weeks.
Sale of the site by the Eagles for $2,015,000 closed April 14, two weeks earlier than anticipated, said Pili Meyer of Coldwell Banker Uptown Realty, who represented the Eagles in the transaction.
The parcel was listed in May 2010 for $1.99 million. The Clallam County Assessor’s Office valued it at $2.14 million.
“They were waiting for the environmental study to get signed off, and it just got signed off,” Meyer said Friday.
“The keys were turned over a few days later.”
A week later, on April 21, the Eagles purchased property east of the city limit behind the 2709 E. U.S. Highway 101 Safeway from Brad Maxhimer of Port Angeles for $184,450, according to Clallam County Auditor’s Office records.
Today, the Eagles plan to open their temporary new facility at the former St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store at 112 E. Eighth St. and will rent it from Peninsula Community Health Center, located next door.
Tonight, the Eagles will review potential design plans presented by the organization’s building committee, with hopes of moving into a new lodge by February, real estate committee member Kevin Wheeler said Friday.
“It’s a case of, OK, [the building sale] part is done, we’re waiting in a holding pattern now, and now we have to move forward,” Wheeler said.
But the developments are a touch bittersweet for Eagles members faced with having to move from their longtime home because dwindling membership could not support maintenance and upkeep of the Penn Street facility.
The new facility will be 5,500 square feet, roughly one-quarter the size of the Eagles’ former home, said Thomas DeJoy, a member of the Eagles’ board of trustees.
It won’t include the Eagles’ renowned “floating” dance floor from the old lodge, though some members did take pieces of it, DeJoy said.
The Penn Street lodge has been a second home for many Eagles for many years, DeJoy said.
“But we also realize we need to downsize,” he added.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at email@example.com.