Thursday, August 26, 2010

Border meeting raises more questions than answers

Bellingham Herald
July 19, 2010
by John Stark

BELLINGHAM - Federal officials had little information to offer the two dozen people who turned out for a Monday, July 19 meeting that was meant to identify public concerns about environmental impacts from the activities of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The issues that the public identifies are supposed to be addressed in an environmental impact statement for the entire northern border, which is to be completed in draft form some time in October 2010. The draft is then available for additional public comment before it becomes final in spring 2011.

Chuck Parsons, environmental program manager in CBP's Laguna Niguel, Calif., office, invited those at the meeting to submit written comments by mail or e-mail, or by using a comments box set up for the meeting. A court reporter was on hand to record comments of those who wished to submit oral remarks at the meeting one-by-one, but there was no open comment session.

Parsons took a few questions from the audience but mostly apologized for not having more information.

Jim Davis of Bellingham, a member of the North Cascades Conservation Council, told Parsons he needed more information.

"I'm a little bit stymied as to how to make reasonable comments since I don't know what you're doing along the border," Davis said.

Parsons said people could comment on the environmental impacts from CBP activities they already know about.

The environmental impact statement is meant to identify the effects of all CBP activities on land, sea and air, and make sure that the agency complies with a range of federal environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act.

Ken Wilcox of Bellingham, a member of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission, asked Parsons how CBP could accomplish such a broad review so quickly for almost 4,000 miles of northern border.

Parsons replied that the border will be considered in four segments. Washington state is part of a segment that takes in the area from the crest of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific.

David Graves, Northwest field representative for the National Parks Conservation Association, said his group is concerned about impacts on North Cascades National Park, whose northern boundary is the U.S. border.

Caroline Correa, a representative from the Community to Community Development immigrant rights group in Bellingham, said she had been impressed by the dedication of CBP and Border Patrol personnel during a recent tour of their Blaine facilities. But she said she still has concerns.

"We're worried about the militarization of the border and we're also worried there might be walls built, like in Mexico," Correa said.

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