Bonner County Daily Bee
October 15, 2011
By CAMERON RASMUSSON
NAPLES — Nerves ran ragged Thursday over a generalized strategic plan for security along 4,000 miles of U.S.-Canadian border.
Despite reassurances that the document under discussion authorized no specific actions, public concerns over private property rights and intrusive security threatened to overtake the meeting.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials held the meeting to gather public opinion over a programmatic environmental impact statement that identifies several alternatives for future security strategies. CBP environmental planning chief Jennifer Hass said the PEIS lays the groundwork for any border security enhancements in the future.
“If specific projects are contemplated, we can use this document as a planning tool,” she said.
According to the agency’s statement of purpose, the plan provides CBP with “the flexibility to expand or alter its activities over the next five to seven years to maintain effective control of the northern border.”
However, the document’s inability to precisely identify those expansions or alterations fostered agitation among meeting attendees.
According to the PEIS itself, border officials identified five different policies they could implement.
A “no action” alternative simply maintains current operations.
The second alternative emphasizes construction of new Border Patrol stations while upgrading current stations.
The third alternative expands the use of short-range radar, ground sensors, unmanned aerial systems, wireless communications and other technologies.
The fourth alternative focuses on improving and creating roads, cutting trenches, constructing towers or raising fences to improve Border Patrol navigability and prevent illegal crossings.
Finally, the fifth alternative mixes elements from all the other strategies to create a balanced security policy.
The PEIS also ranks each plan based on the type, severity and likelihood of an impact on the social and natural environment.
“What we found was moderate or minor impacts regardless of the alternative,” said Bruce Kaplan, senior planner for MANGI Environmental Group. “The impacts we did find were mostly construction-related.”
According to Border Patrol information officer James Frackelton, illegal weapons transportation and drug trafficking are the primary reasons for enhancing security. However, he added that should security measures be revised, they will always take U.S. citizen well-being into account.
“After we do risk analysis, we’re going to do the thing that makes sense for the area and the taxpayers,” he said. “In the end, we’re working for you.”
Among all the listed alternatives, the prospect of fencing raised the most consternation. According to the document, fencing would be used in short-range sections to “manage movement in trouble spots where passage of cross-border violators is difficult to control.”
“We never intended the kind of fencing you might see on the southern border,” Hass said. “This is more along the lines of fencing you would use on your own property.”
Idaho Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, cautioned CBP officials to be very clear about the types of fencing under consideration. In a written statement, he urged the agency to find other means of enhancing security.
“No matter how small or short in distance, any unilateral action to build a fence sends the worst possible message to our neighbors and friends to the north as well as to the rest of the world,” he said.
Washington resident Johnna Exner also worried about the consequences of increased security. As the owner of property about a mile from the border, she attended the meeting to inquire about the safety of her land and animals. However, she had no love for current border crossing regulations.
“Probably half the people I know don’t go to Canada anymore,” she said. “It’s too much of a hassle.”
The PEIS will be under public review until Oct. 31. Visit www.northernborderpeis.com to read it in its entirety or file a comment.