Vermont Farm Takes On Border Fight With U.S. The government plans to seize a farmer's land to build a $5 million border post on a quiet country road. The community is fiercely opposed, and the Department of Homeland Security is under fire for planning expensive projects that some say isn't needed.
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Vermont Farm Takes On Border Fight With U.S.

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Vermont Farm Takes On Border Fight With U.S.

Vermont Farm Takes On Border Fight With U.S.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The federal government is also spending hundreds of millions of dollars to beef up security along the northern border with Canada. Both the Department of Homeland Security is being criticized for planning expensive projects that may not be needed.

In Vermont, for example, the government plans to seize a farmer's land to build a new $5 million border post on a quiet country road. The local community is fiercely opposed to the project and the state's congressional delegation says the government should scrap it.

More from Vermont public radio's John Dillon.

(Soundbite of farm)

JOHN DILLON: There's a rhythm to life on a dairy farm. By late afternoon, the milking machine drums out a steady beat to mark the end of the day's work.

Clement Rainville leads his large Holsteins through the milking parlor eight cows at a time. The 70-year-old has lived on this farm since 1946. He says the farm has endured through three generations of hard work and careful management.

Mr. CLEMENT RAINVILLE (Dairy Farmer): It's a small farm by today's standards, but it's been a very good farm. I've been very fortunate. I've had good help.

DILLON: The farm has a herd of about 130 cows. The original farmhouse dates back to the 1840s. But Rainville says the farm's survival in this century is threatened by national security concerns. He and his family are fighting the government's plans to seize 5 of their 130 acres of cropland for a new border station. Five acres may not seem like much, but the elder Rainville says the hay and corn that the land produces is a big piece of the farm's self-sufficiency.

(Soundbite of vehicle)

DILLON: The hamlet of Morses Line is just a dot on the Canadian border in the small northern Vermont town of Franklin. A quiet country road leads to the existing brick border station at the edge of the Rainville's hayfield.

(Soundbite of cow)

DILLON: In about two hours on a recent afternoon, one truck and two cars go by. And one was a customs officer arriving for his shift.

Mr. RAINVILLE: Last night was a little busier because you had bingo at the church in the neighboring town.

DILLON: Brian Rainville, Clement's son, goes through a box full of documents and pulls out the architectural drawings for the new project.

Mr. BRIAN RAINVILLE: So we're looking at putting in a storm water pond, a traffic turnaround, covered parking, three designated traffic lanes, two stages of radiation detectors, a two-story building with a fitness center on the second floor. It all strikes me as a little much for Morses Line.

DILLON: Brian Rainville says he used the Freedom of Information Act to find out if the new border station is needed.

Mr. B. RAINVILLE: We found out that a whopping 14,000 cars came through the facility the previous year. So I'm not quite sure how Morses Line with a traffic rate of two and a half cars an hour is a matter of national security of upmost budgetary importance.

DILLON: Similar controversies are playing out across the northern border, where the Department of Homeland Security plans to spend $355 million to fortify 22 border stations. Federal money is hard to turn down, but the Vermont congressional delegation opposes the Morses Line project. And in North Dakota, Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan has also criticized plans to spend an average of $16 million on border stations that see just a few cars per hour. But the government says the projects are needed to meet the challenges of a post-9/11 world.

Officials say the existing Morses Line customs building has a leaky roof and not enough space to inspect vehicles or hold prisoners.

Mr. MARCO LOPEZ (Spokesman, Customs and Border Protection): The actual current footprint of the facility does not accommodate for the additional screening of vehicles, of passengers and of trucks.

DILLON: Marco Lopez is a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection.

Mr. LOPEZ: Our homeland security is only as strong as each individual port of entry. And that is why we are committed to making sure that we are able to provide the technology and the infrastructure requirements that this new threat environment demands of us.

DILLON: But the Rainvilles say the little-used facility should be closed, and the money spent improving a much busier border station 10 miles to the west. But Homeland Security officials say that closing a border crossing is a complicated procedure involving negotiations with Canada. Officials say they plan to go to court to seize the Rainvilles' land.

For NPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier, Vermont.

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