People in a small U.S. community close to the New Brunswick border say they've scored a victory against what they viewed as out-of-control spending on national security, after a proposed customs building was dramatically downsized.
Americans are preparing to honour the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. In the decade since the attacks on the U.S., there has been a construction boom along the Canada-U.S. border.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which was created in the aftermath of the attacks, is still building expensive new customs buildings along the boundary between Canada and the United States. The new facilities are even popping up in remote communities along the border.
Forest City, Maine, is directly across the St. Croix River from Forest City, N.B., and the two communities have a year-round population of about 15 people. Forest City is in western New Brunswick, roughly 70 kilometres south of Woodstock.
Canadians and Americans living in the border communities were used to walking across the bridge to meet each other, and if the local customs guard was not in the office, Forest City residents would walk over and visit his house.
When the Department of Homeland Security decided to beef up its facilities along the border, Forest City was slated for a new building.
The department originally planned for a new $16-million office at the Forest City border crossing, which sees roughly six cars pass by each day.
The initial plans were put into flux when a protest among local residents erupted.Forest City, Me., and Forest City, N.B., have about 15 year-round residents.
Not only was Homeland Security’s proposed building more costly than local residents felt necessary but it also would have caused the expropriation of Jane Johnson’s property on the St. Croix River.
"I immediately felt it was not a necessary step. We don't need that kind of a building," Johnson said.
She said she learned about the proposed project when a federal bureaucrat called to ask permission to perform some surveying work on her property. She called Maine Senator Susan Collins and refused to let engineers on her land.
Bob Parker, Johnson's neighbour, said he feels the initial desire to build a new facility was about perception about the border and not reality.
"If you're a little old lady living in Missouri, you think your northern border is a lot safer now," Parker said.
The frustration about the size and scale of the new facility was felt on the Canadian side of the border, as well.
Carl Higgs, a retired Canada Customs officer across the river in Forest City, N.B., said he also felt it was unnecessary for such a large building to be placed in a small community.
"I mean for a little place like this. If it were a big place and they were going to have a lot of traffic, it would be different," Higgs said.
Local protest launched
After learning of the project, Johnson began trying to find a way to halt it. Johnson said she is all for more patrols on remote sections of the border but the $16-million building was too much.
Senior U.S. government officials did come to see Forest City to investigate the local concerns. The bureaucrat flew over the region in a helicopter at the urging of Collins.
"We were standing right up there and one of the people from Washington said, 'This just isn't going to work,’" Johnson said.
Listen to more about Forest City and the border on Maritime Magazine on Sept. 11 at 8:30 a.m. on CBC Radio One.
Eventually, the Department of Homeland Security scaled back the designs to a $5-million project and there will be no expropriation required.
As for Parker, he said the idea of building major customs buildings along the border are a waste of money.
Parker said people who threaten the United States will not try to enter at official border crossings.
"Anybody who wants to come in and do us any harm is not going to try to come through the border, whether they're open or closed at the customs agency down here," Parker said.
"They're going to walk across right here. Or they're going to get in a boat up there and come across the river."
Parker said it would make more sense to spend money on increased patrols on remote areas of the border, such as on lakes and on rivers.