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A way out: 'win-win' for US Customs, Friday Harbor | Guest Column
By Lovel Pratt
Dear Secretary Jewell, Senator Murray, Senator Cantwell, and Representative Larsen, I am emailing to request that you consider establishing a coordinated public lands information and interpretive center in Friday Harbor.
This facility could showcase the San Juan Island National Historical Park, the San Juan Islands National Monument, US Fish and Wildlife Wilderness islands, and perhaps more of the state and county public lands that are located in the San Juan Islands. As we began the process that led to the designation of the San Juan Islands National Monument, Secretary Salazar issued a memo (May 31, 2011) to the agencies in the Department of the Interior.
Secretary Salazar’s directive was embraced by many in the community and led to the establishment of the Conservation Partnership. In addition to the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Conservation Partnership also includes several public lands agencies in the islands: Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Washington State Parks, San Juan County Parks, San Juan County Land Bank, the San Juan Preservation Trust, and more.
The idea for a ‘one-stop shop’ public lands information and interpretive center was identified as a high priority at the community listening sessions hosted by the Department of the Interior.
My request for your consideration at this time is due to an opportunity for a win-win solution to a very difficult situation on San Juan Island.
On Nov. 25, I attended the US Customs and Border Protection community forum regarding the relocation of the Friday Harbor Port of Entry. The relocation site selected by the General Services Administration is in the heart of downtown Friday Harbor, on the corner of First Street and Spring Street, the main street of town.
I (and my sense of the majority of the community) appreciate CBP’s current level of service in our community and recognize their need for a larger office facility. However, there is significant community opposition to the relocation site selected by the GSA given its location at the center of the commercial core of Friday Harbor and the potential negative impacts to our tourism-based economy.
There is also concern with the GSA’s signing of the lease without any public process. The GSA representative’s statement at the forum that “there is and possibly can be a public process but it is not required” was met with overwhelming dissatisfaction. I hope that in the future there will be a requirement for some kind of public process when the GSA leases property, especially in high-profile situations such as this.
The only option I see for the GSA to reconsider alternative locations for the CBP that would meet with broader community support would be for the GSA to identify an alternate tenant for the current lease. The time is right to move forward with the establishment of a coordinated public lands information and interpretive center. The best location in the islands is Friday Harbor, and the best location in Friday Harbor is the corner of First and Spring streets.
The San Juan Island National Historical Park is located on San Juan Island and formerly had a small interpretive center in downtown Friday Harbor. The San Juan Islands National Monument, recently designated by the president, is bringing more tourists to the islands, and more demand for information about the National Monument and other recreational opportunities. Visitor numbers during the summer of 2013 are up at the San Juan Island National Historical Park and San Jun County’s hotel/motel tax collections have also increased from the previous year.
The property the GSA has signed a lease for on the corner of First and Spring streets would be an ideal location for a ‘one-stop shop’ information and interpretive center. The location, within a block of the ferry landing, provides access, especially to the thousands of visitors who walk on the ferry for a day-trip to the islands and may not be able to visit all the public lands first-hand.
The existing layout includes ample space to provide information, for interpretive displays, and for offices. Alternative sites for CBP include the Port of Friday Harbor (the Port designed a building, with public in-put and at port expense, that apparently meets all of CBP’s requirements), a property on Beaverton Valley Road (just outside of town; whose owner submitted a response that apparently met all of GSA/CBP’s requirements and at a total cost that is apparently less than the total cost of the lease that was signed), and a trade with the San Juan Island National Historical Park’s offices on Mullis Street.
I hope that you will take this opportunity to establish a ‘one-stop shop’ public lands information and interpretive facility at an ideal location, provide the GSA with the opportunity to identify an alternative location for CBP that meets CBP’s needs and has broader community support, and provide our community with a win-win solution.
Thank you for your attention to this request for consideration, and for all the good work that you do.
— Editor's note: Lovel Pratt is a former county councilwoman (2008-12)