Border Patrol will move from federal building — but where?

PORT ANGELES — The federal government is seeking new quarters for two border protection and customs enforcement agencies now housed in a downtown building.

The agencies will move from their overcrowded headquarters in the Richard B. Anderson Federal Building at 138 W. First St., federal officials said last week, once new housing is found.

The agencies won’t increase staff or build a detention facility for suspected illegal immigrants as a result of the change, they said.

In September 2007, the federal government was seeking space for possibly 50 employees, then put those plans on hold.

The two agencies that will move — the Border Patrol, which operates under the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE — now occupy the second floor and basement of the building.

Both operate under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security. ICE is not nearly as far along as CBP in finding a new home.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, under which the Border Patrol operates, has narrowed its choices to two possible sites, agency spokeswoman Jenny L. Burke said.

They are:

• 3.4 acres occupied by Eagles Aerie 483 at 110 Penn St., east of downtown Port Angeles

• A 22-acre grassy, vacant parcel at 9999 Critchfield Road west of downtown.

CBP has budgeted $5 million to $8 million for the project and will make a site selection by August, Burke said.

The agency patrols areas between international ports of entry and staffs those port of entry, such as the Port Angeles Ferry terminal, where the Victoria Express and MV Coho ferries take passengers back and forth between Port Angeles and Victoria in British Columbia.

The Blaine sector that oversees Port Angeles’ international border station is responsible for Alaska, Oregon and 19 of Washington state’s 39 counties.

The number of Port Angeles-based Border Patrol agents increased sixfold from four in 2006 to 24 by April 2009 and has held steady since then, Todd McCool, the agent in charge, said last week.

He said agents still conduct regular boardings of privately owned, Port Angeles-based Olympic Bus lines at the Discovery Bay stop on U.S. Highway 101 to check the citizenship status of passengers.

Border Patrol staff numbers will not increase once the agency relocates, said Doy Noblitt, spokesman for the CBP’s Blaine sector, of which Port Angeles is a part.

The new facility also will have two holding cells, the same as the present facility, Noblitt said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the other Homeland Security agency in the federal building, is responsible for investigating immigration violations and oversees detention facilities for suspected illegal immigrants.

ICE spokeswoman Lori Dankers would not comment on existing staffing levels in Port Angeles.

The General Services Administration, which oversees the housing of federal facilities, gave an indication of what ICE is looking for in an April 15 letter to the Port Angeles Mayor Dan Di Guilio inquiring about available space.

GSA “is seeking 3,938 square feet of office and related space and 5 parking spaces,” according to the letter.

City Manager Ken Myers said Friday the city had nothing available.

Dankers said staff numbers would not grow once ICE moves and a detention facility would not be part of the project.

“We are not looking for any detention space in your neck of the woods,” she said, adding the Northwest Detention Facility in Tacoma is big enough to handle ICE’s needs.

“There will be no expansion of our mission,” Dankers added.

“We just need more space to do what we need to do.”

ICE has just begun the search for new offices or land on which to build a new facility and has no potential sites in mind, said Ross Buffington of the General Services Administration, which oversees the rental, purchase and sale of government buildings.

The federal building — renamed the Richard B. Anderson building Sept. 2, 2008, for the Congressional Medal of Honor recipient from Sequim — is also occupied by Social Security, which is staying put, Buffington said.

Once the other two agencies move, the empty space would be made available for other federal agencies, although none in the Port Angeles area so far have expressed an interest in doing so, Buffington said.

McCool said he’s looking forward to relocating because of limited parking outside the Federal Building and limited space within it.

Moving “would be a good thing,” he said Friday.

“This station was originally designed for a few agents, and it’s not up to modern standards. It’s just not designated for this kind of work.”

The listing price of the Eagles Club site is $1.99 million, making it the most expensive property for sale in Port Angeles, said the listing agent, Associate Broker Pili Meyer of Coldwell Banker Uptown Realty in Port Angeles.

Meyer said she’s waiting for a letter from the federal government for Eagles’ officials to sign notifying them that federal officials will conduct a feasibility study of the site, which would occur before an offer is made to buy it.

Federal officials visited the property just two weeks ago, she said.

It’s been for sale since October 2008.

“These buyers have shown more interest than any other buyers we’ve encountered,” Meyer said.

“They made it very clear at the beginning that they will take as much time as they need to make an offer,” she added.

“They’ve made three visits, so that gives me optimism.”

Kevin Wheeler, a member of the Eagle’s real estate committee, said a sale would have to be approved by local membership and the national organization.

Eagles membership has declined from about 3,000 several years ago, when an annex was added, to about 800 today, including the ladies’ auxiliary.

“This is an awfully large building for that many people to support,” Wheeler said.

“Not very much” is left on the mortgage, he added.

“Our goal as a club is to end up with a new facility that members can support and not have a mortgage,” Wheeler said.

“As a club, we still want to do stuff for the community. We need to have a place where people can have a reception. The Eagles is a lot more than just a lounge.”

Federal officials have been assessing the site since last year and most recently asked for a floor plan and information on the building’s sewer line, Wheeler said. Last week he was digging out that information.

The other parcel CBP is considering is at the northwest corner of Edgewood and Critchfield roads just west of William R. Fairchild International Airport.

It is owned by A2Z Enterprises LLC of Port Angeles.

The asking price is $650,000, said the listing agent, Realtor Kelly Johnson of Windermere Real Estate/Port Angeles.

The Eagles’ and A2Z properties “are completely different,” she said.

“With ours, they could build exactly what they want,” she said, adding that it’s close to the airport.

CBP’s Marine and Air Operations for the Port Angeles area are located in a Port of Port Angeles-owned building on O Street at the Airport Industrial Park.

Port commissioners last week approved three, one-year lease extensions for the CBP facility through June 2014.

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at [email protected]

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