Homeland Security could join with Clallam law enforcement for new digs

Larger headquarters for the federal Border Patrol in Clallam County could include space for emergency operations and dispatching for the county’s law enforcement agencies.

“We are studying it and having productive meetings,” Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said.

Joseph Giuliano, deputy chief of the Blaine Sector of the Border Patrol, said Friday that such a move could save taxpayers money.

“Why wouldn’t we do it?” he said.

The Department of Homeland Security recently advertised for proposals for 12,000 square feet in the Port Angeles-Sequim area to expand.

Port Angeles Fire Chief Dan McKeen said that, after talking about the expansion plans with a Customs and Border Protection official, the 50 employees cited in the ad is not the immediate goal.

“He was not talking about expansion to 50 people. They are looking at a building that size for future growth,” he said.

Giuliano envisions county and federal agencies sharing “a campus,” although not individual buildings, and some support staff, such as maintenance crews.

Jurisdictions and functions would not be shared, he emphasized.

But that vision is in preliminary discussion and would not be considered until the feasibility had been studied, said both Giuliano and Benedict.

The leasing office of the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection agency, which includes the Border Patrol, wants to lease either a building or a piece of undeveloped land that could house a possible 50 employees.

That would be a sharp increase from the current five Border Patrol agents in the Federal Building on First Street in Port Angeles.

The Homeland Security leasing office placed a classified advertisement in the Peninsula Daily News on Aug. 31 asking for proposals for a building with 8,000 to 12,000 square feet or 3 acres to 8 acres of undeveloped land.

The agency said it sought a five-year lease for the property, which would be in or near Port Angeles or Sequim and have 50 parking spaces.

It would move in on or before December 2008.

Port Angeles Mayor Karen Rogers said she planned to send a letter welcoming the agency to Port Angeles and offering assistance.

“I hope to get some response in a couple days,” she said.

Port Executive Director Bob McChesney said port officials had discussed the Border Patrol’s need for additional space, but that he expected that the port’s proposal would be one among many.

The agency hasn’t chosen any property yet, he said.

Few knew about the plans last week.

“I know a lot more than I did last week,” Benedict said on Wednesday.

On Aug. 29, before the ad was published on Aug. 31, local law enforcement officials discussed consolidating the county’s emergency operations center in the Clallam County Courthouse and the city’s 9-1-1 dispatch center in Port Angeles City Hall.

After the ad, the idea was broached to share space with the federal officials at a meeting last Wednesday.

That meeting included officials from the port, city, county, Border Patrol, Sequim Police Department and Clallam County Fire District No. 3, which provides fire protection for Sequim and surrounding areas.

“All that was discussed was the feasibility of sharing building space by combining the county emergency operations center and regional dispatch center with the Border Patrol,” McKeen said.

“There’s some advantages in sharing space and the Border Patrol also could benefit from OPSCAN,” he said.

OPSCAN is a radio network designed to eliminate “dead zones” and allow direct communications among law enforcement groups and other agencies on the North Olympic Peninsula and in Canada.

“The key term is feasibility. Does it even make sense to explore it further?” McKeen said.

“But these are just preliminary discussions.”

Bob Martin, manager of the Clallam County Emergency Management Division, said Kitsap County is an example of “co-locating” a county’s emergency operations center and 9-1-1 dispatch center along with state and federal agencies.

“The classified ad was a catalyst to bring us all together and get us talking,” Martin said.

“I give Benedict a lot of credit for pulling people together to pursue this opportunity. He’s put a lot of energy into this,” he said.

Giuliano said the projected expansion is not related to the 2010 Winter Olympics, which are set for Feb. 12-28 in Vancouver, West Vancouver, Richmond and Whistler in British Columbia.

“No, this isn’t because of the 2010 Olympics. This is projected growth,” he said.

The expansion also is not related to any specific threat in this area.

“It’s part of an overall balanced growth program of the Border Patrol,” on the northern border, Giuliano said.

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Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group

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