Site It Right - A New Rallying Call

By: Jennifer J. Caddick

Volume 18, Issue 12, December 2023

For the past two years, Thousand Islands community members on the US side of the River have been watching closely - and speaking out - as US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) searches for a location to build a new 48,000-square foot facility. This fall, yet another site emerged as a potential location, raising even more alarm bells and indicating that CBP is still not listening to either the community or elected officials. The message from community members to CBP is: “Site It Right.”

Another Ill-Advised Location Under Consideration by CBP

In September, residents along the river in Clayton, NY, across from Round Island, noticed contractors conducting surveys and taking samples in the Dockside Cottages property on Rte 12. When asked, the contractors shared that the property was being surveyed as a potential location for the new CBP facility.

Needless to say, community members and neighbors are very concerned. CBP’s planned facility is 48,000 square feet, and the plans include holding cells, parking for over 100 vehicles, dock/boat ramps, dog kennels, storage for ATVs, snowmobiles, boats, fuel tanks, communications tower, and perimeter fencing and lighting. It would place an industrial-scale facility in the middle of a residential neighborhood along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, damaging property values and putting the River environment at risk.

A boat conducting underwater surveys for CBP spent several hours in the waters across from Round Island this fall. [Photo courtesy DeDe Nash.

DeDe Nash, a resident who lives nearby, and whose property borders the sliver of waterfront where CBP would potentially build a dock, shared her feelings in a letter to the Watertown Daily Times stating, “It breaks my heart to think that this peaceful riverside neighborhood could be forever changed by the proposed 48,000 square foot facility and its accompanying 100-plus employees, parking lots, marina facilities, and artificial lighting equivalent to that of a large shopping mall.”

Dockside Cottages is just the latest property under serious consideration. As Thousand Islands Life readers may recall, Blind Bay, an ecologically sensitive bay in the Town of Orleans, has been the focus of CBP’s attention as a potential site. The Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) and Save The River launched a “Save Blind Bay” campaign two years ago, after the land trust purchased the property to forever protect its critical habitat. Unfortunately, as Thousand Islands Land Trust Executive Director Jake Tibbles explained in a recent Watertown Daily Times article, Blind Bay is still a site of interest.

A Community-Supported Option, Ignored by CBP

While CBP spends taxpayer dollars surveying numerous unsuitable properties, local officials and community groups have come together to find an appropriate location - the former Bonnie Castle Recreation Center (sometimes called Bonnie Castle Stables) at the intersection of I-81 and Route 12 in Alexandria Bay. A portion of the property has been offered by the Town of Alexandria, which owns the property, to CBP to build their facility. Several options for water access have been provided to CBP.

Putting the new CBP facility at the former Bonnie Castle location would provide more than enough space for the needs outlined in CBP’s proposal. CBP also already has several water-access options in use. They keep boats in the water at Keewaydin State Park near Alexandria Bay, just a few short miles down the road, and at the US Coast Guard station on Wellesley Island, a short distance from the large new CBP facility at the US/Canada border crossing.

“What is puzzling to me,” said Jack Burke, a neighbor of the Dockside Cottages site, "is that its consideration runs counter to several of CBP's stated site criteria, most notably zoning (Marine Residential with a Scenic Protection Overlay) and having access to public water. And nowhere is a waterfront location presented as a criterion in the draft impact for the Wellesley Island Station prepared for CBP in 2022. In fact, none of the other five Buffalo-sector Border Patrol stations are sited on water, including the new Niagara Falls station for which ground was broken in August.  Why the double standard, particularly when they already have convenient and suitable river access for their use?"

The proposal to site CBP at the Bonnie Castle property has garnered widespread, bipartisan support; US Senator Schumer, Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, NY State Senator Mark Walczyk, NY Assemblyman Scott Gray, and Jefferson County legislators Phill Reed and Bobby Cantwell. Additionally, the Towns of Alexandria Bay, Orleans, and Clayton have all passed resolutions in support of the Bonnie Castle Recreation Site and in opposition to other locations. The proposal is also supported by numerous community groups, including the Thousand Islands Land Trust, Save The River, the Thousand Islands Park Associations.

Add Your Voice, Tell CBP to “Site It Right”

The Watertown Daily Times recently editorialized in support of the proposal stating, “So if everyone is in agreement, why must this drag on any longer? Choose Bonnie Castle Stables for the new border station and start construction.”

Community members up and down the River feel the same way. More than a dozen Letters to the Editor have been published in the Watertown Daily Times and Thousand Islands Sun in support of the Bonnie Castle proposal.

Graphic created for the Site it Right Campaign. 

Yet, CBP is continuing forward, spending taxpayer dollars surveying inappropriate properties, without any consultation with local community members or local leaders. A new rallying call has emerged along the River - Site It Right - as community members band together to convince CBP that the best site for their new facility on the River is the Bonnie Castle property.

To that end, a new petition is circulating: Site It Right: Border Patrol in the Thousand Islands. If every River-lover signed the petition, it would send a big message to CBP. Plus, it would bolster the efforts of elected officials pushing CBP to wrap up this issue and site their new facility at the Bonnie Castle Recreation Center. It would be a win for everyone. Especially for our River.

By Jennifer Caddick

Jennifer Caddick splits her time between her home in Clayton, NY, and her family's cottage on Linda Island, on the US side of the River. In her professional life, she's spent over 20 years working for environmental advocacy organizations and currently leads communications and marketing for City Parks Alliance. Previously, she was Save The River's Executive Director and led communications and marketing for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. In her personal time, she volunteers with a number of environmental and community organizations, including managing social media for Thousand Islands Life magazine and serving as Secretary of the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) Board of Directors.

Editor's note: We thank all those who have devoted so much time, effort and support for this project.  It is appreciated. Join me in signing the petition. We must all work together.

Posted in: Volume 18, Issue 12, December 2023, Essay, Places

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