The U.S.Customs office in Friday Harbor is moving from their cramped 650-sq-foot office at the Port of Friday Harbor to a 5,000 sq. ft. buiding at the corner of First and Spring streets.
Stephanie Kenitzer Regional Public Affairs Officer US General Services Administration Northwest/Arctic Region said, "The 10-year lease, with one five year renewal option, was awarded in August 2013 after a full and open competition.
The 5000-square-foot location was identified after an extensive search for lease property in the local real estate market that would accommodate the agency’s mission to securing the border and facilitating lawful international trade and travel."
Customs has been headquartered at the Port of Friday Harbor for decades. Thirty years ago they shared the Port's office with the Port of Friday Harbor staff.
Discussions about the Port providing a new facility have gone on for years with no agreement on cost or design. The idea was the Port would build a two-story building where the rocks are adjacent to the traffic circle near the Port parking. Concerns were raised by the American Legion about their view being blocked by such a building.
As to how the space will be configured and what exactly will be inside, Kenitzer said that information is not released due to security concerns.
Despite the rumors to the contrary, Roche Harbor Executive Director Brent Snow was not asked to provide the large space needed for the agency. He said he was asked "to provide a potty" at the small Customs building on the dock at Roche Harbor Marina. He said he will do so.
Response to the news that the Customs office was moving has been intense. Personal attacks against owner Gordy Petersen have been posted on Facebook. Rants about the presence of Homeland Security moving onto the island and predictions that the economy will suffer are also posted on Facebook.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol were moved into the Homeland Security organization when several law enforcement agencies were reorganized a few years ago. The move is not bringing a separate branch of Homeland Security to the island.
Peterson has tried to find a tenant who can pay the market rate ever since Windermere Real Estate agency broke their 10-year-lease in 2008. Howard's Sell It Again, the second-hand shop currently in the space, was temporarily occupying the space until a tenant could be found.
In a statement on Facebook in response to the personal attacks and rumor-mongering, Petersen wrote: "The customs office now has 15 agents. They are housed in a 650 SF office. They need more space. The Port would not help them. The Customs office is moving 2 blocks. It has nothing to do with the tower. It is not DHS. It is Customs. No new agents from DHS are moving here to spy on you. Nobody is going to be locked up there. It's an office.
"The hate and anger I feel from so many of you saddens me deeply. The misinformation and ignorance is unbelievable. The escalating rumors are pure fantasy. I think many of you may not be rational. Delusional might be a better description. In any case you have made things up out of thin air.
Roche was never considered as an office. They have a floating shack that they don't charge Customs for because it brings in boat traffic.
"The area that Customs is responsible for is the Port dock, Spring St. Terminal, the international ferry, and the airport. They need to be near these places because that is their workplace. They also need to assist people when they walk up from boats so it needs to be close to the marina.
"Windermere left in 2008 breaking a 10-year-lease. The space has been for rent since then and exactly zero people stepped up to rent it. (Howard was temporary and he worked hard to make something there).
"Many of you think you know what I should do with this property. Any one of you could have come up with a plan and offered to rent it. Instead you spout vitriol and hate and blame me for what? For trying to pay my mortgage? How dare you!
"... Customs is moving two blocks. It's not the end of the universe. They have protected us against GMO produce coming to the islands for years now. They have stopped drug cartels from moving goods across our island borders. They also stopped a terrorist attack locally (centennial bomber). These people are heroes in my opinion.
How many of you risk your lives for others in your job? These people are our neighbors. Their families live, work, shop, and go to our schools. They put their lives on the line everyday to protect the borders of this country. They deserve your respect not your contempt."