Support Grows for Vermont Farmer Battling Border Patrol
05/24/10 7:34AM By Charlotte Albright
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(Host) Over a hundred people - including some tea party protesters - packed Franklin Town Hall on Saturday morning for a public hearing about plans to build a new border inspection station on the Canadian border at Morses Line.
The Department of Homeland Security wants to buy or, if necessary, take land from a local farmer to expand the facility.
Now, Senator Patrick Leahy is asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to close the crossing, saying he'll use the Appropriations process if necessary.
VPR's Charlotte Albright has more.
(Albright) The original proposal by the Customs and Border Protection agency was to buy aboutten acres of Clement Rainville's land to expand and modernize the ageing inspection facility. The Rainvilles refused, saying they need all their 220acres to maintain their dairy operation.
On Saturday, CBP spokesmen from Washington DC announced a re-design would require about 2.2 acres of Rainville's land. Brian Rainville, the owner's son, had a ready answer:
(Rainville) Congress gave you four hundred million dollars for critical port facilities. You brought it to a site with no commercial traffic that is closed eight hours of every day where you can secure the border with a gate, electronic monitoring and the border patrol. I have a no-impact proposal for you; I have a green proposal for you-close your port. (applause)
(Albright) For over two hours, a long line of speakers echoed that sentiment, though some suggested renovating the existing station, an historic landmark, rather than closing the port of entry.
The head of the design firm that has been awarded the construction contract for the new building never spoke up. But afterwards, John Illick said he hoped for a compromise that would re-imburse the Rainvilles fairly and bring 90 jobs - at least temporary ones - to a town that could use them:
(Illick) The notion of stimulus, economic stimulus, which is part of this whole project, should not be ignored.
(Albright) But many at the hearing questioned the five million dollar price tag and suggested there were better uses for federal stimulus funding.
Trent Frazier, Director for Modernization of the customs facilities, promised to take the those objections back to Washington. But he believes the current facility is not sufficient in a post-911 world:
(Frazier) If we're going to continue to operate a port of entry there we have to do this kind ofmodification to make that facility capable of doing what is expected in our border security mission today.
(Albright) But Frazier says any plan to take the land by eminent domain is now on hold, pending final review.
The Rainvilles say they are not interested in negotiating any further.
For VPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright.