U.S. Customs office relocates to downtown location

By Cali Bagby

Journal editor

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection opened the newly relocated Friday Harbor Port of Entry facility on Oct. 5.

According to a Customs and Border press release the new, larger facility, located at 100 First Street, will allow  officers to more efficiently process the more than 37,000 individuals that come into the U.S.

“This new facility provides more convenient and centralized services for travelers entering the United States via Friday Harbor by air, land or sea,” said the press release.

CBP’s activities at this office include cargo importations; processing individuals for trusted traveler programs; importation of personal boats, vehicles and other merchandise; and screening of arriving cargo and passengers.

“Friday Harbor’s new office ensures Customs and Border Protection can carry out its functions and serve our community,” said Blaine Area Port Director Gregory Alvarez. “It enhances our ability to ensure the flow of legitimate international travel while safeguarding the homeland from threats abroad.”

The Port of Entry was first established in 1883 and a full-time inspector was assigned to the office in 1900. Today, the Friday Harbor office processes 8,000-plus small vessels into the United States each year, more than the rest of the country combined. The Friday Harbor Port of Entry was previously located at the port. The newly-leased space is managed by the U.S. General Services Administration on behalf of Customs and Border Protection. 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 of Friday Harbor since 1978. In addition to inspections and security duties in Friday Harbor, Customs and Border Patrol agents are assigned to Roche Harbor to check and clear boats arriving from Canada, and operates a small kiosk at the Friday Harbor marina for boat and seaplane arrivals.

Controversy

On Oct. 30, Gordy Petersen, owner of Friday Harbor Center, located at the intersection of First and Spring streets, and CBP public information officer Chief Thomas Schreiber each confirmed that a lease had been signed.

“This is good for the town and good for the nation,” Petersen told the Journal last year. “These people are our neighbors. They are protecting our community and people should respect that.”

A public meeting was held in November of 2013 to  discuss citizens’ concerns about the new location. The Journal reported that about fifty people told them in about fifty different ways that they didn’t like the idea.

The group Citizens for the Core was formed to advocate  government transparency and public process. The group released a statement recently asserting that the public should have been consulted about the new location, but that did not happen.

Moving forward the statement said that CBP and the General Services Administration made certain promises to address public concerns about the move.

“In particular, they agreed not to change the facade of the building in any way, to keep signage small, and to be as discreet as possible about apprehending suspects,” the statement read. “The citizens of San Juan Island did an excellent job of advocating for their needs respectfully, and local and regional customs officials did a great job of listening and responding to those needs.”

The group says they  will be watching the impacts of the move on tourism, business, and the general atmosphere of the Friday Harbor downtown core.

“If the citizens of Friday Harbor like what they see, then that would be wonderful,” continued the statement. “ If not, then in eight years or so, Citizens for the Core will begin preparing an alternative location for the CBP offices, so that it can be ready at the end of the current ten-year lease.”