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Blind Bay Is Home To One Of Upstate New York’s Most Prolific Muskellunge Spawning Areas; However, A New Facility In Region Could Devastate Fragile St. Lawrence River Ecosystem, A Major Hit To The Tourism Economy

Schumer Has Been Relentless Advocate For The North Country Saying The Feds Must Find A Mutually Agreeable Solution With Community That Protects Environment and Local Economy & Allows Agency To Continue Essential Work

Now, As CBP Moves Forward With The Supplemental Environmental Assessment Scoping Process For Potential Sites, Schumer Demands CBP Stop Making Decisions Behind Closed Doors And Hold A Public Hearing To Facilitate Input On How The Facility Would Impact The Region & Says Community’s Voices Must Be Heard In Person So A Mutually Agreeable Site Can Be Chosen

With U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) moving forward with the Supplemental Environmental Assessment process regarding potential siting of a new U.S. Border Patrol facility at Blind Bay or another location, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today demanded CBP hold a public hearing on its plans so residents and stakeholders can make their voices heard and have a full say in determining the location of the proposed facility. Schumer noted that the site preferred by CBP at Blind Bay has been widely opposed in the community due to significant environmental impacts that could seriously harm river wildlife and the local tourism economy.

Schumer said that many in the North Country feel that CBP is not doing enough to be collaborative and transparent with the community and not doing enough to integrate community input on alternative locations for a new border patrol facility. The senator welcomes recent CBP efforts to identify alternative locations for the new facility, but said that that these efforts will remain inadequate unless CBP fully engages with the local community in-person, and uses this community feedback to help shape the ultimate siting decision.

“CBP needs to stop the practice of making too many decisions behind closed doors related to this proposed, new border patrol facility and hold a public hearing on its plans so residents can have their voices heard, and can offer mutually agreeable alternative sites and have a meaningful impact on the outcome,” said Senator Schumer. “CBP has a critical mission, which I support, and which the community supports, but the process of siting of this new facility cannot be a one-way street. Holding a public hearing on the proposed new border patrol facility pursuant to the Supplemental Environmental Assessment would be critical step to more fully involving the St. Lawrence River communities in the critical public decision.”

CBP has said it is only planning to gather input on the proposed facility by mail or email, limiting the ability for many to fully make their case on how the community would be impacted if this plan moves forward. Schumer said this is wholly inadequate and – given the strong opposition the plan has generated from the St. Lawrence River communities – it is essential that full community participation be made central to the Supplemental Environmental Assessment CBP is pursuing for the proposed construction of the new facility.

“The St. Lawrence River is the heart of the North Country and our tourism economy attracting thousands of visitors every year. But for months CBP has made too many decisions behind closed doors, ignoring the community’s pleas to more meaningfully engage with them on their plans. Now as CBP moves forward with the Supplemental Environmental Assessment, they must allow for full community participation, and that means having an in-person public hearing so that people can make their voices heard,” said Senator Schumer. “I have been involved in scores of NEPA environmental impact processes around the state for many proposed projects, and public hearings are a normal, expected and beneficial part of the process. Not conducting a public hearing is a mistake, and CBP needs to reverse course ASAP. I have the upmost respect for the hard work Customs and Border Protection Agents do every day, and want them to have the resources and facilities needed to do their jobs and that is why it is so essential that CBP engage with the community in person so that we can work together to find a mutually agreeable location that boosts both the vital services of the agency and the local community.”

“The Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) board and staff, our many coalition partners and supporters, and the thousands of individuals who have stepped forward to help save Blind Bay applaud Senator Schumer for demanding that Customs & Border Protection (CBP) facilitate in-person public hearings in a manner that is inclusive and provides access for all members of the River community,” said Jake Tibbles, TILT’s Executive Director. “Holding in-person public hearings in the host community is the only way to ensure that those who are impacted by the proposed Border Patrol facility will have a voice. While the Land Trust believes in the importance of border security, we are also confident CBP can advance its mission without negatively impacting the region’s unique environmental character and overall quality of life. TILT echoes Leader Schumer in strongly urging CBP to allow the St. Lawrence River community to help shape this siting decision, and we thank the Senator for his leadership on this critical issue.”

“As a representative member of the NYS Assembly, I strongly disapprove of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's decision to limit public input on their Environmental Assessment to mail and email only. I believe direct community interaction is essential to address concerns about the ecosystem, natural beauty, our tourism economy and quality of life,” said NYS Assemblyman Scott Gray. “I commend Senator Chuck Schumer for pushing back on this plan and urging CBP to engage with the community openly and transparently. On behalf of our community, I thank the Senator for his continued leadership on this critical issue.”

“On behalf of my constituents in the Town of Orleans and surrounding communities, I would like to thank Senator Schumer for insisting that local stakeholders be able to give their input and voice their opinions in person concerning the siting of a proposed new CPB facility, said Jefferson County Legislator Phillip N. Reed. “Senator Schumer was among the very first advocates to stand up for our community on this critical issue, and I greatly appreciate his continued support for our community and for the natural environment of the Saint Lawrence River. I look forward to working with the Senator, CBP, and all parties involved to ensure that this process is conducted in the most open and transparent manner possible.”

In January 2024, CBP officially announced plans to conduct further environmental surveys of additional locations in the St. Lawrence River Basin area in response to concerns of local residents and officials. This is set to include a public scoping process that CBP officials have said is set to begin in April 2024 wherein state and local officials can suggest alternative locations for the new facility. CBP, however, recently revealed that it only intends to gather public input for the scoping by mail or email. In response, Schumer wrote directly to Acting Commissioner Miller conveying that this is unacceptable, and could limit public participation for those without easy access to technology, and that given the strong community oppositions it is essential the full community be able to participate in person, as has been for many other similar projects across the state to ensure all perspective are fully heard before any decision is made.  

Schumer has a long history of advocating for Blind Bay. In March 2022, citing environmental concerns and local opposition, Schumer wrote a letter to Acting Environmental Branch Chief John Petrilla and called on U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to immediately reverse course on its plans for construction of a new station in the Blind Bay area at Fishers Landing. Ever since, Schumer has continuously remained committed to standing with the local community opposed to the proposed station on Blind Bay.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can be found below:

Dear Acting Commissioner Miller,

I write to urge U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hold a well-publicized, widely accessible, and conveniently-located public hearing to allow for full community participation and input into the Supplemental Environmental Assessment public scoping process for a proposed new U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) facility in the Wellesley Island Border Patrol Station Area of Responsibility. Because any site chosen will have enormous impact on wildlife ecosystems, tourism, and the quality of life of those nearby, the local community must have a full opportunity to express their opinions on proposed sites and for those opinions to shape the decisions determining the facility’s location.

I support the mission of USBP, work hard to fund its operations at the national level every year, and recognize the general need to update and modernize facilities to ensure the agency has the resources to most effectively carry out its vital mission. However, this work must be done in fair and reasonable balance with the needs and vital interests of host communities. 

In February 2022, CBP announced that the agency was considering the possibility of constructing a new 49,000 square-foot USBP facility along the St. Lawrence River near the Blind Bay area at Fisher’s Landing in the Town of Orleans, NY. In response to immediate and overwhelming local opposition, I wrote to your agency in March 2022 to support residents, community leaders, and local officials in their opposition to this plan. Since then, I have continued to work closely with local leaders and officials to engage with CBP on this issue and have spoken publicly in support of CBP working with the community to identify a site that is acceptable to locals. Local leaders and regional stakeholders have demonstrated a willingness to engage with CBP on identifying an alternative site, including but not limited to the former Bonnie Castle Stables site. Indisputably, Blind Bay is a vital habitat and thriving ecosystem of over 53 fish species, famously home to the most prolific muskellunge spawning area in the St. Lawrence River basin. It is an essential habitat for recovery and conservation efforts to restore fish populations damaged by habitat loss and protect local fish and their spawning grounds from invasive species—particularly the muskellunge, which is known as the St. Lawrence River’s “most important sportfish.” In addition to its ecological importance, the Thousand Islands area is a thriving community where visitors flock to enjoy the area’s natural beauty. Any site chosen must protect the ecosystem, tourism economy, and natural beauty of the St. Lawrence River Basin. 

In January 2024, CBP officially announced plans to conduct further environmental surveys of additional locations in the St. Lawrence River Basin area in response to concerns of local residents and officials. This process includes a public scoping process that CBP officials have informed me is set to begin in April 2024 wherein state and local officials can suggest alternative locations for the new facility. CBP officials have also communicated that gathering public input for the public scoping, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which sets procedure for federal agencies to conduct environmental surveys, will be conducted by mail or email only. 

This is unwise and unacceptable. I have been involved in scores of NEPA processes around the state for many proposed projects, and public hearings are a normal, expected and beneficial part of the process. Not conducting a public hearing pursuant to the pending Supplemental Environmental Assessment is a mistake, when, in fact, doing so will only strengthen the final product. Failure to hold a public hearing would truncate full public participation in this critical siting decision, which has generated considerable concern and attention in the St. Lawrence River communities. Therefore, I strongly urge CBP to conduct an in-person public hearing to finally engage face-to-face with the community impacted by this decision, more effectively solicit and comprehend input and concerns from the community and to better educate stakeholders and the public at large of the proposed new facility, possible locations, and the process that is unfolding.

While I welcome that CBP is exploring alternative sites to the original Blind Bay location chosen, I strongly urge that the agency actively engage with the community throughout this process to ensure that a harmonious siting decision is ultimately made. Public hearings are vital for fulsome public participation and transparent dialogue between CBP officials and the community regarding potential benefits and drawbacks of proposed locations. A public hearing would increase accessibility for full-time and part-time residents, especially those with limited access to technology. All perspectives must be heard and considered before a final decision is made.

I look forward to your reply and am hopeful we can soon schedule a public hearing on this vital matter.