Port Townsend Customs office could be curtailed

PORT TOWNSEND — Port of Port Townsend officials fear visitors from north of the border must avoid Jefferson County if federal authorities cut Customs services in Port Townsend later this year.

Budget uncertainties in the Department of Homeland Security agency may lead to keeping Customs agents in Port Angeles rather than having them staff the Jefferson County office five to six days a week on a rotating basis.

Customs inspectors register U.S. visitors at authorized Port Townsend ports of entry — either at Jefferson County International Airport by air or Point Hudson or Port Townsend Boat Haven marinas by sea.

The Port of Port Townsend, which operates the airport and marinas, is listed as a designated port of entry with U.S. Customs services available.

“We have people coming here from Canada expecting to clear Customs,” said Larry Crockett, Port of Port Townsend executive director, on Thursday.

Rotating basis

After the only full-time Port Townsend inspector retired several months ago, the Port Angeles Customs and Border Patrol Office began staffing its Jefferson County office with a temporary inspector on a rotating basis.

“We have someone there pretty much five days a week, and I hope to keep that throughout this summer,” said Gerald J. Slaminski, Port Angeles Customs and Border Protection port director.

Customs inspectors from Port Angeles take shifts at the Port Townsend office and provide service from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Slaminski said.

But inspectors are often pulled back to Clallam County if things get busy at the Port Angeles port of entry, which with the working harbor and ferries from Victoria is much larger than Port Townsend’s, said Crockett.

Temporary staffers

That could change, however.

“We should have two additional temporary staff positions in the Port Angeles area for the summer,” said Mike Milne, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman in Seattle.

That would increase availability of Customs inspectors in Jefferson County as well, Milne said.

What makes Port of Port Townsend officials worry is the uncertainty of what would happen after the summer.

Keeping a Customs inspector in Port Townsend would depend on whether the Port Angeles agency receives funding from Seattle, Slaminski said.

“That part is all unknown at this point,” Milne said.

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