Securing the northern border
Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
More than 200 people gathered just west of Havre in a new multi-million dollar facility for a dual celebration the 85th anniversary of the U.S. Border Patrol and the grand opening of the Patrol's new Havre patrol station. “This is very exciting,” said Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Christopher Richards, the guest of honor at the celebration. “While opening this beautiful facility, it's our honor to have you join us.” A list of dignitaries including Hill County Commissioners Mike Wendland, Kathy Bessette and Mike Anderson, Havre Mayor Bob Rice and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, attended the celebration. Several speakers commended the work on the facility not only is it a high-quality piece of craftmanship, they said, it was completed under budget and ahead of deadline. The Havre station, built by local contractors, is the only facility that met a presidential mandate for planning and construction to be completed in 15 months, said General Services Administration regional director Tanisha Higgins. From groundbreaking to the last piece of construction, the Havre facility was built in eight months. Stations of the size and scope of the Havre station generally take 24 months, Higgins added. “It's unheard of for a facility of this size and scope (to be completed this quickly),” she said. A formal celebration The ceremony was held in a very formal fashion, starting a new tradition for the 85-year-old federal agency. Richardson said the Border Patrol, an organization steeped in tradition and honor, will celebrate its anniversary on May 28 each year. Senior Patrol Agent Roger LaSmith read a proclamation during the ceremony. “On this day, May 28th, 2009, and in every year that follows, in every place where Border Patrol employees serve, we will take time for fellowship and camaraderie, remembering our fallen, celebrating their lives lived well and our life as a service,” LaSmith read. The ceremony began with an honor guard presenting the colors, marching to the front of the room and posting the flags. The posting of the colors was followed by the singing of the national anthem by 2009 Havre High School graduate Emily Hilliard, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and an invocation by the Rev. Brad Ulgenes of Havre's First Lutheran Church. Tester, Rice, Wendland, Richardson, Higgins and Dave Clausen of Northern Border Development LLC, which built and leases the facility to the U.S. government, gave speeches during the ceremony. Letters from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who could not attend the ceremony were read and then a new tradition of cake-cutting to celebrate the birthday of the Patrol was implemented. The first piece of cake was given to Richardson as the guest of honor. The next pieces went to the most senior agent, then to the most junior agent. The next piece went to the most senior civilian employee, followed by the most junior civilian employee. The passing from the most senior to the most junior symbolizes the passing of experience and learning to the youth and vigor of the next generation in the Patrol. The ceremony also included information about the Patrol's history in Havre and the history of the organization itself. Richardson said that when the Patrol was established in 1924, much of its work was done from horseback, and the agents had nothing for radio communication. That has changed, with a Blackhawk helicopter on the helipad outside of the station, cars, trucks and all-terrain vehicles in the parking lot, and a high-tech communications system about which Richardson rattled off the name and specifications. “That doesn't mean much to me. All I know is I can press a button and be talking to an agent in Plentywood,” he said. The Havre station was first opened in 1924, the first year of the Border Patrol's existence, Richardson said. It's first station was where the Salvation Army office is now located on 3rd Street, he added, saying he wonders if some agents might still want it there, “right next to Bing 'n Bob's.” One of the first roles of the Patrol agents and customs officers was trying to stop whiskey smuggling from Canada during the years of Prohibi tion, Richardson said. “Running gun battles in vehicles were not uncommon,” he said. Increasing border security The new building replaces a facility leased for use by the Border Patrol on Bullhook Drive, near the Parthenon Restaurant. As the number of agents in the area increased, that facility had become too small, with inadequate technology to support the agents' work in securing the northern border. That includes stopping the entry of illegal aliens, smuggling, drug running, and the Patrol's new primary mission preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the country. The station, a 33,000 squarefoot facility with state-of-the art technology, was built to better support that mission and the need to increase the Patrol's presence in the region. The building is designed to house the work of 50 Patrol agents, and can be expanded to hold more. The building includes a center for processing people the Patrol has detained, operations centers, a kennel that can hold up to six dogs and helicopter pads the only Border Patrol helicopter pads in the Havre sector, Higgins said. Richardson said after the ceremony that the station will help the Patrol increase its presence in the region, as well as giving better support for its mission. “It's going to help us in recruiting agents to come to Havre,” he said, adding that the Patrol would like to fill the station to its 50-agent capacity but is, for now, shooting for 35 agents. “Beyond that, it gives a sense of pride in the agents who work here,” he added, saying having the facility as nice as any in the nation would improve the pride, morale and work ethic of the agents working there. Tester said after the ceremony that in Washington he says Havre, as the headquarters of a sector that Patrols 456 miles of Canadian border, is a key to securing the northern border. “This really cements that in,” he added. The size and quality of the station, as well as the technological improvements, will help give the Patrol agents the tools they need, he said. “That makes sense,” he added. The Patrol has been working on upgrading stations in the Havre Sector over the last few years. A station similar to the Havre facility is being opened at Sweetgrass, and smaller new stations also have been built in Shelby, Malta, Plentywood and Scoby. The sector office remains in its facilities just south of Havre, near the Havre Ice Dome. Congratulations and thanks all around Many of the speeches had a series of thanks for the speed and quality of the work to find the ground, plan the building and construct it. Rice complimented the local contractors who worked on the facility. “We had the best contractor in the state building this, and these are the results,” he said. Clausen, who formed Northern Border Development with Tom Patrick and Pat Newton, complimented the contractors, including Clausen and Sons, Patrick Construction, Schine Electric, CTA Architects, Bill Baltrusch Construction, Frontier Lawn & Landscaping, Holt Plumbing, McNair Furniture, Heydon Overhead Door, Havre Paint Shop, Havre Heating and A/C, and others. “It was a trying, focused and very gratifying project,” he said. He added that working with the team of government officials overseeing the project also was gratifying. “These people are proof our government can function effectively,” Clausen said. Mike Wendland also complimented people working behind the scenes, setting up the zoning and planning so the site could be built. Hill County Planner Clay Vincent and Clerk and Recorder Diane Mellem and her staff were crucial for that, Wendland said. Richardson also thanked Tester and his colleagues in Congress. “None of this would be possible without the funding,” he said. After the ceremony, he said the quality and speed of the work done by the local contractors was unbelievable. “You only have to look at it to see the quality and the craftsmanship,” Richardson said. “In my 23 years in service, I've never seen a facility (like this) go up so fast and with such craftsmanship.” Tester said the building is a testament to something he argues in Washington regularly local contractors should be given the opportunity to bid on projects like the Havre patrol station. “The proof is in the pudding,” Tester said, pointing at the building.