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Top Ten of 2013: No. 3; Unrest rises over US Customs lease

From left; Arthur Beard and Greg Alvarez of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and County Councilman Rick Hughes listen to concerns over Customs relocation to Friday Harbor Center at a town hall meeting, Nov. 25, in Friday Harbor.  - Scott Rasmussen
From left; Arthur Beard and Greg Alvarez of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and County Councilman Rick Hughes listen to concerns over Customs relocation to Friday Harbor Center at a town hall meeting, Nov. 25, in Friday Harbor.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen

After a 10-year search for a new local office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection found it in 2013 at the corner of First and Spring streets. CBP, to its apparent surprise, also found controversy.

Long-located in a 600 square-foot office at the Port of Friday Harbor, six CBP officers (plus more in the summer) annually process hundreds of boats, airplanes and ferry passengers arriving daily in Friday Harbor and, in summer, Roche Harbor.

Previously occupied by Windermere Realty, the new CBP office has about 4,500 square feet and a 10-year rental price of just over $2 million, which includes the cost of improvements, building services and six covered parking spaces.

The announcement that a lease had been signed ignited protests, meetings and petitions, a Facebook website, and letters to political leaders in Olympia and in Washington, D.C. Supporters of owner Gordy Petersen defended him, and people on both sides of the issue expressed support for CBP.Citizens for Core

Less than a month later, six uniformed CBP officers and two civilians came to Friday Harbor to explain their decision to about 150 islanders. CBP Area Port Director Greg Alvarez described the need for the space and an in-town location, and Jim Coffelt of the U.S. General Services Administration explained the process used to select the First and Spring site.

After all was said, nothing was done. Although suggestions have been made that the new Spring Street Landing building be designed to accommodate the CBP office on the waterfront, neither the Port of Friday Harbor nor the CBP believe that’s a practical alternative - at least for the next 10 years.

— Steve Wehrly

 

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