A potential hardening of Friday Harbor’s coveted small town charm topped the list of concerns raised by islanders that Nov. 20 met to ask questions, gather facts and seek an alternative to the pending relocation of the local U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters into the heart of the town’s commercial core.
The civic-minded get together, billed as an "All Community Meeting," drew roughly 70 mostly like-minded residents to the Brickworks building, nearly all of whom question why the federal security agency would need 4,500 square feet of office space for a new headquarters in the heart of town—almost seven times the size of its current location at the Port of Friday Harbor.
And many of whom also believe that the agency’s move to intersection of First and Spring streets, in Friday Harbor Center, slated for sometime in the coming year, could well undermine Friday Harbor’s reputation as a friendly, laid-back tourist town.
“Inappropriate,” Friday Harbor business owner Robyn Zenek labeled the pending relocation, echoing sentiments of many.
The chilling effect of a ramped up presence by federal enforcement agents might have on the town’s atmosphere and on the island’s economics stood out as a frustration for many, including, like Zenek, about 20 local merchants.
Following an introductory fact-finding session, meeting moderator Grisha Krivchenia summed up the mood of the room with a collective question, “Why do these guys need so much space at such an expense?”
On behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, parent agency of Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. General Administration Services struck a 10-year lease agreement in late August with building owner Gordy Petersen for use of ground floor office space in Friday Harbor Center. News of the deal surfaced in late October.
The value of the 10-year lease, according to GSA’s Stephanie Kenitzer, totals $2.1 million, which includes rental fees, tenant improvements, building services and six parking spaces.
Created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security, now the largest police or law-enforcement agency in the U.S., is the third largest department of the federal government, exceeded only by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
Once occupied by Windermere Realty and currently the home of Howard’s Sell it Again, the 4,500 square foot retail space will be used to house the seven Customs and Border Protecton agents now working out of 660 square feet of leased space at the port, home to the local Customs detachment for more than three decades.
Friday Harbor is one of 67 U.S. ports of entry managed by the Seattle Field Office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. CBP officers have operated out of rented space at the port since 1978. That space, about 660 square feet, is rented to CBP for $1,473 per month under a lease that expires in May, 2014, according to port Director Marilyn O’Conner.
Krivchenia said the Community Meeting evolved out of concerns first raised and circulated on a pair of locally generated Facebook pages, “Citizens for the Core,” and “No DHS in FH,” which together now boast nearly 1,200 members.
He said the face-to-face meeting allowed supporters to separate fact from fiction, discuss alternatives, accept specific tasks, develop strategies and a unified message prior to a Nov. 25 town hall hosted by Homeland Security regarding concerns raised over pending relocation; 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Mullis Street Fire Station.
Among the tools the group hopes will prompt federal officials to change their decision are raising objections through a letter writing campaign to state, local and federal elected officials, collecting signatures on a petition calling for a halt to the move and for a study of its economic impacts, investigating town zoning rules and alternative locations, and having a large presence at the Nov. 25 DHS town hall.