The Air and Marine Operations -- an extension of the CBP -- will be moving into a hangar at the Old Town Municipal Airport this year. Credit: Nina Mahaleris | Penobscot Times

OLD TOWN, Maine — The Air and Marine Operations branch of the Customs and Border Protection will close its hangar in Houlton and relocate to Old Town later this year, according to the agency’s air operations director.

The Air and Marine Operations is an extension of the CBP which operates three branches in the Northern region of the United States with locations in Bellingham, Washington; Manassas, Virginia; and the Great Lakes.

The agency has considered moving Maine’s air operations to a more central location for several years, according to Erik Soykan, the director of air operations in Manassas, Virginia, which oversees facilities in Plattsburgh, New York; New York City; and Houlton (soon to be moved to Old Town).

The facility, currently based in Houlton, has one helicopter to cover areas between Maine’s 18 ports of entry while also assisting other law enforcement agencies in Boston and New Hampshire, Soykan said.

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But the northern location wasn’t the ideal spot for their air operations, which services the entire state. “We thought that moving down toward Bangor would be beneficial,” he said.

After failing to find an available spot at Bangor International Airport close to other port offices, Soykan said they started to scope out the surrounding Penobscot region for a space.

The facility will become the new permanent base for the agency’s helicopter and will have an office with one or two full-time agents.

Soykan said the agency has not set a move-in date but is hoping to be fully operational in Old Town between early spring and summer. “We’re excited about moving into the Old Town-Bangor area,” he said.

The agency will stop using the hangar in Houlton after moving into the Old Town facility. The Houlton border patrol sector will remain open and is supportive of the decision to move south, Soykan said.

He added that access to the Penobscot River was not a factor in the decision to move to Old Town. “Old Town just happened to be what we felt was a good central location to base our helicopter out of,” he said.