Falls port of entry

GSA has a revised plan for the local port of entry, but local officials have heard nothing about it for one year.

“The U.S. General Services Administration continues to work on the long-term infrastructure needs at land ports of entry across the United States. At this time, GSA does not have new information about a project at the International Falls Land Port of Entry.”

That was the response to a May inquiry by The Journal about the status of a proposed new port of entry from a GSA spokesperson “on background,” later defining that means not for attribution.

However, one year earlier, local officials were asked for their review and comment on “Submittal #3 of GSA’s Feasibility Study 2018 Update, Final Report, Volume 1,” dated May 10, 2018.

The 246-page report includes about 120 pages of narrative and schematics, prompting a six-page response June 28, 2018, by Koochiching County Commissioner Wade Pavleck, who served as the board chairman at that time.

Pavleck’s letter commented on 19 different design elements included in the update, and had comments and questions about two others.

Among the questions were whether the new port would provide faster and more efficient crossing of U.S.-bound motorists causing more to use it that now use other entry points. Would a new port bring more traffic into the community, he wondered in the letter.

Among the comments were whether the now defunct International Bildrite property, along the south side of Highway 11, could be used as part of the new port facility, or to mitigate land that could be taken for the project from the city of International Falls or Packaging Corporation of America.

The letter concludes with, “We welcome the opportunity to discuss the items listed in this letter, and any other items related to this topic.”

At the June 18, 2018, International Falls City Council meeting, the council agreed to respond to the update by sending Mayor Bob Anderson’s letter of concerns to the General Services Administration on the port of entry plan.

While Anderson said in the letter he supports a new port of entry for the community, he outlined a number of concerns about the new study and plan for a new port, noting the process has been conducted by GSA with little public notice.

Those concerns involved: safety issues in requiring trucks to cross a bicycle path; and relocation of the truck trailers that serve the paper mill to the south side of Highway 11 east, again forcing trailers going to and from the mill to cross the bike path. That relocation of the trailers would also involve the loss of the property the city now uses to place snow collected in the business district, he noted.

The mayor also pointed to the narrowness of the parcel for the new port, which has resulted in the plan to keep portions of the Canada-bound traffic contained on an elevated section above the bank of the river, as well as adding a half-mile to the Canada-bound traffic. In addition, he said the size of the parcel may make it difficult for special truck loads that are longer or heavier than normal.

One year later?

Anderson said Tuesday he and city officials have heard nothing from the GSA staff involved. “Been one year, and we’ve had nothing, not at all,” he said.

“There’s no doubt it would be nice, and it’s needed, to have a new facility, we just don’t know what impacts are going to be to the community, overall,” he said.

Asked whether he believed members of the public will get a chance to see the proposal soon, he said he was unsure.

“I don’t think they invited us, we invited ourselves in,” he said. “We thought we’d given seven years, there ought to be a whole new environmental assessment done.”

Meanwhile, Anderson said he believes staff with Minnesota Department of Transportation working on the U.S. Highway 53 reconstruction in the city are wondering what will happen at the port of entry as it could play a role in the project, planned for construction in 2020 and 2021.

Anderson wondered about funding for the project, which would come from U.S. Congress, and other competition for the money.

“They’re supposed to be attempting to get funding, but it might have been put on hold here because of the needs of the southern border,” Anderson said.

Has the county board had a response?

“Not to my knowledge,” Pavleck said. “This has been now how many years’ process? Nine years is a long time.”

Pavleck said he hopes the county and city’s responses are being addressed in what he expects to see as a final proposal “so we can take it to the public and get comment.”

Catherine Langel, GSA spokeswoman, in 2017 provided via email the following statement to The Journal:

“For land port of entry projects, the U.S. General Services Administration follows the priorities of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection. GSA ceased work on this project due to competing priorities and limited funding. GSA continues to work with CBP to plan for its long-term infrastructure needs, and is unaware of any private party interest related to this project.”

Emailed several questions about the status of the plan Monday, to which she replied asking about a deadline, Langel failed to respond to the questions by that deadline.

Meanwhile, the original plan shelved in 2011-12 considered a new location for a new land port-of-entry. The GSA proposed to replace its existing port with a new, $50 million port that would improve the operational efficiency, safety, and security for both federal agency personnel and cross-border travelers.

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