The ribbon has been cut on the new land port of entry at Noonan, with a small ceremony and facility tours.
About 20 people packed into the inspection garage for the ceremony Oct. 18 and to hear from Mary Delaquis, the area port director of Pembina U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Eugene Schied, assistant commissioner for the Office of Administration of U.S. CBP.
About $420 million was appropriated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, to update or build 31 of the 41 CBP-owned land ports of entry in the United States.
Schied noted that port buildings have been constructed regularly in difficult economic times, with large-scale projects to provide new land ports of entry in the 1930s and 1960s.
Schied said most of the individual projects were between $10 and $15 million, though he didn't have a specific figure for the Noonan port. He added that it was difficult to put an exact dollar figure on one site, as some costs were combined into all the projects, like design. Those practices allowed them to "scrunch" the dollar, he said.
"We did the design centrally, and then replicated the design, so we have one design contract. A lot of the environmental work was done centrally," said Schied. "Each of the construction projects was done on a project-by-project basis."
The upgrades are primarily about securing the border, and a media release also noted that the CBP continues to deploy unmanned aircraft over 950 miles of the northern border from Washington to Minnesota, including the skies above the North Portal and Noonan ports.
Delaquis said operationally, the upgrades include the ability to have two lanes of traffic come through the port, and also radiation monitors.
"We have radiation floor monitors in place that are strategically located so that every vehicle has to go through the screening," she said.
Schied said that "quite a lot of change, and quite a lot of investment went into this."
Delaquis said advancements to their computer system are being constantly made and the new infrastructure they now have will make those easier to do. She noted the old building was constructed long before they knew there would be a need for computers.
The new document scanners should make going through the port quicker, which is one of the things they looked at very closely when setting up the new building: getting people through the port with ease.
"Documents can now be scanned, passports, you scan them right through. It will improve your processing time. That's one of our goals, to make sure the travellers that are arriving, we identify who you are, and should you be admitted into the United States or else you should be welcomed back. And if not, we're going to take responsibility for that."
The previous facility did not meet CBP's current operational mission, and it underwent little renovation, despite growing security challenges, particularly in the last decade. The previous port building, built in 1961, was 1,637 square feet, while the new building stands at 8,489 square feet, with a supplemental inspection building sitting at around 1,350 square feet. The building includes an enforcement area with two holding cells, one interview room and a search room.
The Noonan port has seen 2,961 commercial vehicles pass through in 2011 as of Sept. 30 and 35,887 privately-owned vehicles, and there are always at least two people on staff.
"It is one of our busiest areas, with what we've seen in increases of traffic in the last year or so, especially with the oilfield industry," said Delaquis, noting, "A lot of the commercial vehicles we get are empty."
Delaquis recalled an incident where someone approached the previous port facility, only to drive through, claiming that they thought it was a gas station.
Now she said, "We look distinguished. We look good. We look professional and we look inviting. This is a beautiful facility that recognizes the important work we do on our nation's border."
Delaquis noted that the new holding cells allow some privacy for individuals who require further searches of their cars. Being able to place an individual in a cell means they aren't subjected to the prying eyes of other motorists who are moving through the station, she said, but also keeps everyone safer.
"We can secure them so we can go about not only conducting the rest of our search but securing the rest of the travellers. If you're sitting someone down in the main lobby of our building, sometimes that's a little disruptive, and we don't necessarily have the control that we'd like to have."
She also noted that facility is much more environmentally sound, with power being provided by both solar panels and geothermal energy.