Border Patrol headquarters contract awarded; renovations of Eagle lodge planned

PORT ANGELES — A contract to remodel the Eagles lodge building into the Border Patrol’s new North Olympic Peninsula headquarters has been awarded — even though the sale of the building is not final.

“We still haven’t gotten that signed agreement back from them,” Kevin Wheeler, a member of the Fraternal Order of the Eagles real estate committee, said this week.

Realtor Pili Meyer of Port Angeles, the listing agent for the Eagles, has said the sale will close by April 15.

“As far as I know, everything is proceeding according to plan,” Meyer said Friday in an e-mail.

Still, renovation of the 110 Penn St. building into a 19,000-square-foot Border Patrol station is scheduled to start in May, Corps of Engineers project manager Mark Sangren said this week in an e-mail.

A design-build contract for $5.7 million was awarded to Blackhawk Constructors of San Antonio, he said.

The renovations at the 3.4-acre site will include construction of a 40-foot radio tower, three dog runs, a kennel, a fitness center, a vehicle-maintenance area, 24-hour “down-focus” security lighting and installation of a chain-link fence topped by razor wire, Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Patricia Graesser said.

Renovations also will include an emergency generator and above-ground gas and diesel fuel storage tanks.

It will have two holding cells, as does the present facility at the Richard B. Anderson Federal Building.

There will be an overall decrease of 113 vehicle trips during a typical weekday compared with the building’s current use, according to a draft environmental study of the project released Monday.

The study said the Border Patrol’s move from the Federal Building, 138 W. First St., would not create any significant impacts.

It included the statement: “Future staff expansion is anticipated.”

The Eagles building will be remodeled to accommodate 50 agents, a doubling of the present roster.

Border Patrol officials have said it’s agency policy to build new Border Patrol stations for a capacity of at least 50 agents but have insisted there are no immediate plans to increase staff in the Peninsula office to that level.

“The proposed action is needed to provide agents and staff with more modern, efficient, and safe working conditions of sufficient size to accommodate the current and projected increases in staff, vehicles, equipment, and temporary detention space, which is used to process suspects who are apprehended by USBP agents,” the study said.

If the Border Patrol does not move from its present location, “increased future needs for border protection in the area of operation for the USBP would not be met,” the study said.

“Due to a six-fold increase in staff, the existing Port Angeles Border Patrol Station is severely overcrowded.”

In 2006, four agents worked in the Port Angeles headquarters, its capacity.

That number had increased to 25 as of August.

“We think there are already more agents than they need, especially since they can’t show any figures on how many people are detained,” Lois Danks, coordinator of the group Stop the Checkpoints, said Tuesday.

“We don’t even have any information on what they are doing now. I just think it’s overkill. It’s not necessary. They should reduce the number of agents and find a smaller place.”

Border Patrol spokesman Mark Qualia said the study is not necessarily a blueprint for the future.

Preliminary draft

“It’s a preliminary draft and may contain some inaccuracies,” Qualia said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C., adding that the overall assessment of the northern border is that more agents are needed.

“That is standard language in any of those things,” Qualia said of the study.

“Those decisions are ultimately made by the command staff within each of those sectors based on real-time intelligence and workload.”

One consequence of the expansion would be “a potential improvement to public safety due to an increase in apprehension of cross-border violators and smugglers.”

The Border Patrol has refused to release specific data on the number of arrests made by the Port Angeles station, Blaine Sector, in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.

The agency refused a Peninsula Daily News Freedom of Information Act request for the information and on Jan. 28 denied a subsequent appeal.

“Disclosure of the arrest statistics from the Port Angeles station would provide those interested in crossing our borders illegally with information that could aid their strategic targeting of potentially vulnerable areas along the border,” said Shari Suzuki, chief of the FOIA Appeals, Policy and Litigation Branch.

“Releasing this information could frustrate the agency’s ability to enforce the U.S. border laws by providing a literal road map to those seeking to avoid their detention.”

________

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

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