Public Will Get To Weigh In On Border Upgrade

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(Host) Franklin County residents will get a chance to voice their concerns over a new multi-million dollar border post that would take a farmer’s land.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has promised Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy that her agency will hold a public meeting over the new Morse’s Line border crossing.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Homeland Security has awarded a $5 million contract to start work on a new border station in northern Franklin County. The problem is the government doesn’t own the land. It belongs to the Rainville family. And the farmers have refused to sell five acres of prime hayfield for a high tech border post they say isn’t needed.

The government says it will take the Rainvilles to court to seize the land if the family refuses to sell.

But Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano struck a more conciliatory note when she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Under questioning from Chairman Patrick Leahy, Napolitano said she wants to work with the community to find a solution.

(Napolitano) "This is one of those things where we are trying to work with the owners to get down to the footprint. So we will absolutely have one more community meeting, and as I said, we have been working to try to minimize the amount of acreage involved."

(Dillon) Leahy questioned why Homeland Security needs an expensive border crossing at Morse’s Line. He asked if the government could use the much smaller footprint of the existing site – a border port constructed in the 1930s.

(Leahy) "It seems the government has initiated condemnation proceedings against the five acres of the Rainville family farmland. I know this is an important part of our border, but we have concerns in Vermont, not least of which is preserving farms, but preserving the integrity of our state."

(Dillon) And Leahy said he realized that the northern border could not return to the days when people drove freely back and forth to Canada.

(Leahy) "This is a friendly country. But there may be some unfriendly people that come into the country. But it is a balancing act we need to do. I will be having more and more questions for you. I want to mitigate concerns."

(Dillon) The Department of Homeland Security has not set a date for its community meeting on the Morse’s Line project.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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