HOULTON, Maine — Houlton’s proposed new Border Patrol station has been put on hold after the proposed funds were allocated to a facility in Texas.
In an eleventh-hour decision prompted by increased building costs, the Department of Homeland Security halted construction of a new Houlton facility, which was to start this spring, to redirect funding to a new station in Texas instead.
The delay means the 40 Houlton-based U.S. Customs and Border Protection Services agents and one support staff member will continue working in substandard conditions for five more years until new appropriations are available and construction is completed, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said during a U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations hearing last week.
Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, diverted almost all of the $35 million appropriated for the new Houlton Station to a Laredo air facility that recently broke ground, Collins said.
Houlton-based agents cover 98 miles of international border with the Canadian province of New Brunswick, an area that includes 5,509 square miles of forest and agricultural land. They are crammed into a station with multiple deficiencies, jeopardizing staff health and safety and putting surrounding communities at risk because of inefficiencies, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Services 2022 report on the proposed Houlton facility.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Services recently determined that the cost of constructing the Houlton Border Patrol station had nearly doubled due to inflation and supply chain issues, and would now cost $66 million. As a result, they reallocated almost all of the money intended for the Houlton Border Patrol Station to complete an air hangar in Laredo, Texas, which also faced increased construction costs, according to Collins’ office.
The Border Patrol retained $3 million in funding for Houlton to acquire the land for the new station. A portion of these funds were used for planning, design, environmental and feasibility studies.
“U.S. Border Patrol allocates resources as needed to address competing priorities and mitigate financial shortages,” Ryan Brissette, a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson, said late Monday. “While the project, as planned, may be stalled, the safety of agents and professional staff, as well as that of those in our custody, will continue to be addressed.”
Brissette did not say how the agency will address those issues.
During the appropriations committee meeting, Collins told Mayorkas that she recently learned of the decision to stop the construction of the Houlton facility from local officials, and asked Mayorkas to reconsider his decision, citing the urgency of the matter.
“The facility is in need of replacement due to annual flooding, toxic black mold, contaminated well water. It has a host of problems. I’m concerned that the funds that we previously appropriated for fiscal year ’22 were repurposed,” Collins said. “It’s very frustrating to the hardworking Border Patrol agents in northern Maine.”
Mayorkas told Collins in last week’s hearing the decision to divert the funds was unfortunate, but because of increased costs for both the Houlton facility and the Laredo Air Facility, the funds were moved. He told Collins he would look into the issue.
Mayorkas’ office did not respond to a request for comment and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The $66 million for the Houlton facility is included in President Joe Biden’s FY 2024 budget proposal with completion slated for 2028.
The new facility is proposed for one of two possible undeveloped 15-acre Access Road locations — primarily agricultural land — north of I-95 in Houlton. The new station would accommodate up to 50 agents, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s final report.
The new station’s design includes a 16,100-square-foot main building and 23,000-square-foot support space, along with a two-bay vehicle maintenance space, ATV/snowmobile storage for 14 vehicles, storage for four boats, a heliport, a firing range and a training area.
The current Houlton station has no storage for boats, trailers, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, which are stored off-site or at other stations nearly two hours away from Houlton, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Services report. Security at the station is severely lacking, the report said.
In U.S. Customs and Border Protection Services’ final report, Director of Facilities Operations Bartolome Mirabal said not building the new facility would hinder the Border Patrol’s ability to respond to high levels of illegal border-related activity.