By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Wielding 16-inch-long scissors, Port Angeles Agent-in-Charge Jay Cumbow cut the ceremonial red ribbon Friday before keynote speaker John Bates, chief patrol agent for the Blaine Sector Border Patrol, which supervises the Port Angeles station, told of the virtues of the new headquarters alongside U.S. Highway 101 East.
“This wonderful facility is a far cry from the old station based out of the downtown federal building,” Bates told an audience of more than 150 guests.
“The cramped, disjointed facility that agents had to work out of was not a good working environment,” he said.
“We now have ample, secure parking, office space, storage space, a gym and, frankly, room to breathe.”
The bulding at the site of the former Eagles Aerie 483 Lodge at 110 S. Penn St., was gutted and its innards rebuilt anew as part of a 14-month project that was completed in July.
The federal government paid the Eagles Aerie $2.1 million for the land and spent $9.8 million renovating the building.
The agency's agents, who cover Clallam and Jefferson counties and whose territory ranges down to the Columbia River in Oregon, began moving into the 19,000-square-foot facility July 27.
They have completely relocated from their cramped 3,000-square-foot facilities at the Richard B. Anderson Federal Building at 138 W. First St., where they worked on all three floors.
The facility also has new offices for the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team.
The team — also called OPNET — will move from the county juvenile facility to the new station within about two weeks at no rental cost to Clallam County, said Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict, who attended the ceremony.
The current OPNET facility, which needs to be renovated, will be used by the county for storage, he said.
The 42 agents working out of the new facility represent a more than tenfold increase from the four that worked out of the Anderson Building in 2006, according to information from George Behan, a spokesman for 6th District U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, whose constituency includes Clallam and Jefferson counties.
The staffing numbers were confirmed Friday by Bates, Behan said.
The new station includes a breakroom, which the federal building lacked, and three large temporary detention cells that replace the two metal cages that were used for detention at the Anderson Building.
The cells are intended to hold suspects for up to 12 hours, said Assistant Agent-in-Charge Jason Carroll.
Moment of silence
During the ceremony, a moment of silence was observed in memory of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three members of his staff who died Tuesday in an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The U.S. flag flew at half-staff.
“We will never forget those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Bates said.
Bates talked about the long history of the Border Patrol on the North Olympic Peninsula, saying that Senior Patrol Inspector Chester Anderson was assigned to Port Angeles in 1933, just nine years after the Border Patrol was established.
“We promise to be good neighbors and continue to develop partnerships and a strong, open relationship with the community,” Bates said.
He also praised the Port Angeles Business Association “for the support they have shown the agents assigned to the Port Angeles station.”
PABA President Dick Pilling, who is also chairman of the Clallam County Republican Party, said the organization invites Border Patrol personnel to a thank-you breakfast around Christmas every year.
“We support the Border Patrol,” Pilling reiterated in an interview Friday, adding that PABA has a Border Patrol liaison, Craig Johnson.
Border Patrol spokesman Jeffrey Jones said community groups should phone him at 360-332-9246 to schedule talks by Border Patrol personnel.
Cumbow and Carroll also spoke.
To start off the ceremonies, the Port Angeles High School Choir sang the national anthem, and a bagpipe player accompanied the presenting of the colors.
The audience included Port Angeles Mayor Cherie Kidd, Forks Mayor Bryon Monohon and a host of law enforcement officials, including Benedict, Jefferson County Sheriff Tony Hernandez, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Staff Sgt. Ward Johnson, Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher and Olympic National Park Chief Ranger Colin Smith.
Border Patrol agents stood around the perimeter of the ceremony area with hands folded before them.
Jones asked a Peninsula Daily News reporter to interview only Border Patrol personnel selected by the agency and to confine interviews of selected personnel to topics concerning the station's opening.
A Border Patrol agent who was asked about the proceedings referred questions to the agency's public affairs office.
After the ceremonies, a reception inside the Border Patrol station followed, complete with cakes with artful frosting that depicted in detail the front of the renovated building.
Monohon was among those who packed into the reception room.
“It can't hurt,” he said of his attendance. “That's why I felt obligated to come here.”
Forks has been a focus of Border Patrol traffic stops, and a citizens' group has formed to document the agents' activities.
“I needed to come here to better understand the facility and what the Border Patrol is like and get an understanding of how they're going to use [the new station],” Monohon said.
Carroll, whose office is where the Eagles bar was located, led a media tour of the building.
The facility includes a conference room with video-conferencing capabilities.
The room is being made available to North Olympic Peninsula law enforcement agencies, Carroll said.
One room at the new facility contained night-vision goggles and firearms.
“We've got all the tools we need to protect the country from most of the threats we encounter,” Carroll said.
The fence that rings the property replaces the chain-link fence that was planned, and the 3.4-acre site includes three rain gardens requested by the city to filter groundwater.
The facility also includes kennels for two drug-sniffing dogs.
Border Patrol personnel would not give out the dogs' names for security reasons, they said.
The General Services Administration, which manages the federal building in downtown Port Angeles, is looking for another federal tenant for the space vacated by the Border Patrol, GSA spokeswoman Stephanie Kenitzer said Friday.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which also has its regional office in the building, has canceled plans to lease space in a new location, she added.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at email@example.com.