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New port of entry proposed in Falls

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A proposal for a new facility for the International Falls port-of-entry has moved a step forward with the completion of an environmental document.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has received a final environmental impact statement (Doc. #20110333) on the International Falls Land Port of Entry Improvements Study and a proposal to replace the existing land port of entry along the border with Canada.

The existing facility was constructed in 1993. Since then, the former U.S. Customs Service and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has been blended into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. And the mission of managing the border has changed.

The U.S. General Services Administration has proposed to replace the existing International Falls facility with a new port of entry to improve safety, security, and functionality, according to the document.

GSA officials have said the existing facilities are under-sized and obsolete, and consequently incapable of allowing the federal agencies assigned to it to fulfill their respective missions.

The proposal to construct the new facility is subject to approval by U.S. Congress. David Wilkinson, GSA regional public affairs, said in February that the project could be included for initial funding in the presidential budget for fiscal year 2013.

A GSA spokesperson did not return a call for further information about the proposal.

Five building alternatives were developed to satisfy the study purpose and needs, and assessed by the GSA. The purpose of the environmental impact statement is to provide the GSA and the public with a full accounting of the environmental impacts to the natural, social, atmospheric, and transportation environments.

The EIS serves as the primary document to facilitate review of the proposed action by federal, state, and local agencies and the general public.

After consideration of the comments received on the draft EIS, the GSA identified Alternative 10 as best to satisfy the proposed action’s purpose and programmatic needs with the least impact on the human and natural environment.

Support has been given for Alternative 10 by International Falls city council and the Koochiching County Board. The International Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Board supports it, as well.

Both governments and the Chamber board said that alternative would not change traffic flow in the community, and would encourage visitors to continue to travel to and from the border through the community’s business district.

Alternative 10 would consist of demolishing the existing building, constructing new facilities at the existing port-of-entry, and expanding it to meet the required space standards and increased security requirements of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

This alternative would move the majority of the entry improvements and operations to a 15-acre site southeast of the existing site between Fourth Street and the Rainy River.

Passenger vehicles, buses, and pedestrians would enter and exit the port on U.S. Highway 53 and Second Street. Commercial vehicles would enter and exit the port on Minnesota Highway 11.

With Alternative 10, pedestrian and bicyclists would enter and exit the port using the existing travel pattern along Second Avenue. As presently designed, Alternative 10 would require pedestrians and bicyclists to travel an additional 3,500 feet within the port when compared to the existing facility.

If identified as the preferred alternative during final design, the GSA would further analyze opportunities to shorten the additional length of travel required for pedestrians.

The process to the final EIS began in 2009 when the GSA issued a draft feasibility study examining the conditions of the existing port, and the existing and future needs of the CBP and other inspection agencies.

The results of the feasibility study confirmed the existing building, although well-maintained, does not meet the GSA’s minimum requirements for land ports of entry and provides only a small percentage of the total building area and land required to meet the needs of the CBP and other agencies.

The existing port of entry also suffers from a variety of basic deficiencies that inhibit the ability of the CBP and other agencies to provide safe and efficient processing of vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

A public hearing on the proposal was held at the Rainy River Community College back on Jan. 27, 2010.

The preferred alternative would require the acquisition and conversion of roughly 15 acres of industrial property to government use.

According to the document, it would impact the operations of Duty Free America, employees of which typically walk between the Duty Free America Store and gas station and the outbound pick-up location roughly six times per day for meals and breaks.

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