Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Security To Tighten At Northern Minnesota Border

The Department of Homeland Security plans to expand its Border Patrol offices in Duluth, International Falls and Grand Marais as part of the effort to tighten security along the Canadian border, officials said. If funding is approved, each of the offices would have room for 50 employees, a helicopter pad and an 8-foot wall or fence by winter of 2008, according to specifications published for potential contractors. "Our buildings in Grand Marais and the Falls were built in the 1960s, and we've been in the Duluth federal building since 1976," said Lonny Schweitzer, assistant chief of the Border Patrol's Grand Forks sector. "We've been shoe-horning new technology into old facilities. We're looking to increase our facility size and expand manpower," Schweitzer said. The agency won't disclose its current work force at the locations or the number of workers to be added because of security concerns, he said.A 1996 Government Accounting Office report showed Duluth and International Falls each had two agents, and Grand Marais had one. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Schweitzer said the number of agents along the border has jumped from 400 to more than 1,000. Under the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, a 20 percent annual increase in agents on the U.S.-Canadian border is required until 2010. In July, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment by Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., to put an additional 236 patrol agents on the northern border. Notices posted on the government's General Services Administration Web site call for 10-acre sites at Grand Marais, Duluth and International Falls. The projects would include parking for 25 vehicles in a detached, indoor garage, 50 outdoor parking spaces for employees, and a security buffer perimeter of 100 feet between the property and its neighbors.Grand Marais officials viewed the expansion news as a significant potential boost to the economy because it would require building both a facility and housing for potential employees, said Matt Geretschlaeger, executive director of the Cook County-Grand Marais Economic Development Authority. "It's potentially 50 new families here, in our schools and buying gas and groceries," Geretschlaeger said. "What's unique is that it would be a privately held building leased by the federal government, so they would be paying (property) taxes."