In a letter sent today to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the General Services Administration (GSA), Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe requested construction of a new port of entry be built in Van Buren, replacing the current old, dilapidated structure. In addition, they called for the temporary port of entry, which replaced the permanent facility following the floods, to be winterized to protect CBP agents from the elements and to be more secure.

“While I commend CBP for acting quickly to install a temporary port of entry in Van Buren after the flooding, it is just as important that a new, permanent facility be built as soon as possible to accommodate the needs of local residents and officers working at the port,” said Sen. Collins. “Having met with CBP officers and toured the site of the old port of entry, I recognize the dangers it poses to those guarding our borders on a daily basis. Senator Snowe and I will continue working with CBP and GSA to build a new port of entry in Van Buren.”

“Replacing the port of entry facility at Van Buren is not only essential for the residents along our northern border, but instrumental in providing the Customs and Border Protection with seamless security along the Canadian border. By safely and efficiently accommodating the rising volume of traffic moving through the crossing, the new port of entry will also enable enhanced economic development by minimizing time spent at the border crossing. I urge the Customs and Border Protection, in partnership with the General Services Administration, to expedite the construction of a new facility in Van Buren,” said Sen. Snowe.

During a nomination hearing today of James Williams to be the next administrator of GSA, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Collins raised the need for a new port of entry. Mr. Williams ensured her that plans exist to winterize the temporary facility and that all options are on the table for replacing the permanent structure in Van Buren. If nominated, Mr. Williams said this would be a top priority. Sen. Collins invited Mr. Williams to tour the facility to get a first-hand look at the work that is needed.

The text of the letter follows:

July 25, 2008

Commissioner W. Ralph Basham Acting Administrator David Bibb
U.S. Customs and Border Protection General Services Administration
1300 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. 1800 F. Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20229 Washington, DC 20405

Dear Commissioner Basham and Administrator Bibb:
We are writing to ask that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the General Services Administration (GSA) prioritize the construction of a new port of entry in Van Buren, Maine. As you may know, the port facility in Van Buren was devastated by major flooding in May. The existing facility was already in a questionable condition as it relates to usefulness and indeed, safety for staff. Coupled now with asbestos tiles disrupted, countless substantial structural vulnerabilities and the overall integrity of the building in question having been built on a land fill in 1964, we firmly believe that a proposed repair to the building is unacceptable.

The Van Buren Port of Entry has had an ongoing increase in traffic volume and in recent years, has processed more than 24,000 loads of cargo annually. Van Buren has the ability to accommodate nearly every type of vehicle from commercial traffic holding a permit, passenger vehicles, rail cars, sea planes and snowmobiles. This is an essential facility to the area and certainly to CBP as a whole. CBP officers are now working in a temporary facility, and we understand that it provides a more secure working environment than the existing structure there even if it were repaired.

We ask that CBP implement plans to prioritize Van Buren to include fully replacing the existing Port of Entry and that GSA expeditiously provides the necessary modifications to the temporary facility to ensure its durability for inspections and officer safety, including winterization and canopy to better protect the officers working in the traffic lane with winter quickly approaching northern Maine.

We look forward to your response to this letter and appreciate your assistance. If you have questions about this request, please contact Rob Strayer on Senator Collins’ staff at (202) 224-5571 or Terry McNaughton on Senator Snowe’s staff at 202-224-5349.

Olympia J. Snowe Susan M. Collins
U.S. Senator U.S. Senator