Roadblocks removed; Homeland Security marks mid-summer for opening of new FH headquarters

Like with any building or remodeling project, expect delays.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection was supposed to have moved its office headquarters to the Friday Harbor Center building on the corner of Spring and First streets sometime in spring of 2014. Nearly a year later and CBP is still operating out of its office at the Port of Friday Harbor.

“We hope to be completely moved out of the existing office in the next 3-5 months,” said CBP spokesman Mike Milne.

Last May, CBP’s lease at the Port was due to expire. An extension was requested through March 2015 and granted, and CBP just signed another one year lease that will require a 60-day notice prior to leaving, Port Director Marilyn O’Connor said.

The plan to relocate was first announced in October 2013. While Milne says it’s run of the mill construction delays that have impeded a more timely move, other factors were also at play.

When 2015 rolled in, CBP, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, was operating under Continuing Resolution, a temporary funding process for federal programs and agencies when appropriation bills have not yet been passed.

With the 2015 fiscal year budget awaiting approval in the nation’s capital, the project in Friday Harbor was at a standstill. Homeland Security’s 2015 budget was just passed by the House of Representatives March 3.

So, why the move in the first place?

According to Milne, technology has advanced and responsibilities have increased, making the 660-square-foot space at the Port of Friday Harbor no longer sufficient.

“We’ve kind of outgrown the current location,” he said. “Plus, the workload has risen.”

Between vessels and aircraft, both commercial and private, CBP checks in nearly 30,000 people on San Juan Island per year. Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor are both designated U.S. Ports of Entry.

“It’s really important to continue to have a space at the port for boats to clear customs,” O’Connor said. “As it does bring additional business activity to our community.”

When the move is complete, CBP will still have a presence at the Port. They will continue to operate out of a kiosk on the breakwater to check in vessels. According to O’Connor, CBP checks in about 4,500 private vessels into Friday Harbor each year.

With international travel to Friday Harbor holding steady, Milne says CBP must have the proper infrastructure to meet the demand.

“We understand economics drive our communities,” he said. “It’s important to accommodate travelers, and to do that we need good facilities.”