PORT CLINTON -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, on Thursday opened the first facility in the country to house all three of its enforcement components.
The new Sandusky Bay Station will unite the Border Patrol, Office of Field Operations, and the Office of Air and Marine under one roof on State Rt. 53 near Port Clinton, replacing the three separate buildings that previously contained those offices in Sandusky.
"What you are about to witness is a piece of history that has never been written," Kris Grogan, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman, said at the start of the grand opening for the station, held in front of the $25 million facility. He stood before a crowd of agents in the blue, green, and tan uniforms of the various customs and borders agencies.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) hailed the event as a "very historic moment" and praised the "magnificent facility."
She discussed changes that have created an important role for the new station, despite the United States' "open and friendly relations with Canada."
"We know we live in dangerous times, and there are people who wish to do us harm," she said.
Shortly after the Border Patrol was created in 1924, sectors were created in Detroit and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
The Detroit sector was responsible for an area stretching from Port Sanilac in Michigan to Port Clinton, however, after the repeal of Prohibition, illegal entries through Lake Erie declined and the station closed in 1957.
After that, a patrol station in Gibraltar, Mich., had been responsible for patrolling the border on Lake Erie, but was deemed too far away after the 9/11 attacks. Customs and Border Protection began re-establishing its presence in Sandusky in 2004.
It relocated the three offices to the Route 53 location in Portage Township just outside Port Clinton for its strategic site in the center of northern Ohio and proximity to Cleveland and Toledo, as well as easy access to the Ohio Turnpike and State Rt. 2. The many ports dotting the Lake Erie shore near Port Clinton attract heavy recreational and commercial boating traffic.
Customs and Border Protection hopes to halt unregulated cross-border traffic that has been occurring in the vicinity for several years, fueled in part by a strengthened process for entering the United States for boaters who now need a passport.
Nationwide the number of Border Patrol agents along the northern border rose from about 340 agents before September 11, 2001, to more than 2,200 agents by 2011.
The new facility should improve communication between the three agency branches, which each possess unique skill sets, while sharing the mission to prevent terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and illegal immigration.
The Office of Field Operations covers legal ports of entry, while the Border Patrol monitors areas between these points. The Office of Air and Marine supports both.
Steven Artino, acting director of field operations at the Chicago field office, expects joint meetings and briefings to facilitate information sharing between the three enforcement assets.
"The days of saying, 'Call Border Patrol" are over," said Mr. Artino. "Today we start a new way of doing CBP business."
The building also will serve as a central location for federal, state, and local law enforcement collaborations.
The sprawling, green-roofed facility cost $25 million and spans 65,000 square feet. Now staff from all three offices will mingle in shared common areas. The building also includes a detention room with five short-term holding cells and a room with two giant cages to house dogs used to search for drugs and concealed persons.
The complex's massive indoor parking garage will shelter Customs and Border Protection boats and vehicles for the first time.
"People think of indoor parking as a luxury, but if we have an emergency, we don't want agents and officers taking the time to brush snow off their cars," said Brian Bell, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman.
Mr. Grogan also described the new facility as "a leader in energy and environmental design."
Customs and Border Protection will continue to employ 90 to 100 staff from the area, officials said.
Multiple speakers at the opening ceremony emphasized the fiscal efficiency that would result with the new joint facility.
"This idea of jointness has morphed from a best practice to a necessity," said Randy Gallegos, the chief Border Patrol agent for the Detroit sector. "In a time of fiscal constraint and austerity, this is the way to go."
John Beutlich, director of the Northern Region Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine that oversees 3,000 miles of border stretching from Maine to Washington, predicted that the model of combining operational components will be repeated elsewhere.
"I have no doubt that this facility will be a template for others to emulate," he said.
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Sandusky Bay Station near Port Clinton area to house 3 organizations.