Vermont border station may not close, after all

AP News
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Posted: May 03, 2011 3:59 PM
Vermont border station may not close, after all

A little-used border station earmarked for closing by the federal government may keep its doors open after all.

Citing an "overwhelming outpouring of support" for the Morses Line Port of Entry, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy _ who last year urged federal officials to close it _ now wants them to explore the options for renovating the tiny brick station on the U.S.-Canada border.

"Supporters have put together several proposals that they would like to present to DHS to see whether they are practical and feasible," the Vermont Democrat told U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin in a letter last week.

Last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection sought to modernize the antiquated Franklin, Vt., station, which opened in 1936 but now averages only about 2 1/2 vehicles an hour. The plan was to spend about $5 million on upgrades and widen the building's footprint, seizing a 2.2-acre parcel from the Rainville family dairy farm in the process.

The move was part of an effort to modernize U.S. ports with $420 million in bailout money.

Customs officials warned the Rainvilles that if they didn't agree to sell for $39,500, the land would be seized through eminent domain.

The Rainvilles said no, and locals turned out for a public hearing carrying signs that read "Eminent Domain Equals Federal Land Grab" and "Save the Rainville Family Farm."

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced last June that the station would close instead.

But community members who failed to register their opposition before then have done so since.

"Our communities, our business owners and our citizens have recognized that this port of entry is extremely important to maintain the cultural and economic ties between our region and Canada," said Catherine Dimitruk, executive director of the Northwest Regional Planning Commission, in nearby St. Albans.

"The decision (to close Morses Line) happened much more quickly than people expected, and took a lot of people by surprise. It really mobilized supporters," she said.

The Rainville family, meanwhile, has refused to meet with Customs and Border Protection officials to discuss possible alternatives, according to Leahy.

Brian Rainville, son of farm owners Clement and Betty Rainville, referred an inquiry about the new developments to their attorney, Richard Gadbois. He declined comment Tuesday.

In his letter to Customs and Border Protection, Leahy included copies of alternative plans, two of them involving land swaps that would compensate the Rainvilles for land they would give up for the border station expansion. But negotiations with the Rainvilles have failed to reach agreements.

Leahy says he wants to maintain a port with 21st century security procedures and equipment.

"However, I understand that the security deficiencies of the existing facility require (Homeland Security) to increase the footprint of the port, alter traffic flow around the building and modernize the security capabilities," he wrote.