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Bill Owens

PLATTSBURGH — North Country Congressman Bill Owens says he helped win a concession from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that will bring an additional helicopter and pilot at the Plattsburgh Air Branch.

Owens has been fighting CBP’s plan to reduce staffing along the northern border.

According to a news release from Owens’s office, CBP Assistant Commissioner and Major General Randolph D. Alles informed the congressman that the agency would add an American Eurocopter AS-350 A-Star and pilot to the Air Branch.

However, even with the addition, the total staffing level at the Air Branch is expected to decline in future years, the release said.

This news comes despite the inclusion of funds for an additional 2,000 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers that were included in the omnibus appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2014, which Owens supported. 

“I am encouraged by the news that CBP will keep this aircraft and pilot at the Air Branch,” he said in the release.

“I will use every tool at my disposal as a member of Congress to ensure future government cuts don’t jeopardize national security or impede people and goods crossing the northern border to spend money in our economy and create jobs.”

FOUGHT DRAW-DOWN

Owens, who announced earlier this month that he will not seek re-election, has been lobbying to keep the northern border’s security posture strong by maintaining current staffing levels.

In September, he wrote a letter to the Customs and Boarder Protection commissioner expressing his concerns about the proposed staff reductions. During a call with Major General Alles the next day, Owens was informed the agency would seek volunteers from among employees to move to a station along the southern border but would issue a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) to Air Branch employees and their families if no volunteers could be found in the next two years.

A Permanent Change of Station is essentially an order to relocate, the release explained.

Owens subsequently wrote letters in October and December to Customs and Border Protection in which he questioned the prudence of severe resource reductions. He has pledged to continue to fight this draw-down. 

“Clearly, CBP has important needs at both borders,” his statement said.

“Canada is our nation’s largest trading partner. Beyond giving CBP employees the tools they need to police the world’s largest shared international land border, we need adequate staffing to prevent delays at northern border crossings to protect the commerce that sustains our region’s economy and creates jobs.”

‘WELCOME DEVELOPMENT’

North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said adding a helicopter and pilot is good news for the region.

“This is certainly a welcome development, compared to where we seemed to be headed, and will maintain a stronger presence from which we can hopefully build in the future,” he said.

“Congressman Owens has been personally engaged in this challenge since we first turned to him last year, and we thank him for his support and advocacy.”

 The Plattsburgh Air Branch supports air-interdiction and border-surveillance missions across the Northeast. In addition to that primary mission, the branch assists local and state law enforcement agencies in cases near the border. 

The 21st Congressional District that Owens represents contains 13 border crossings and a large portion of New York’s shared border with Canada.

Owens is the co-chairman of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus, which focuses on ways to speed the flow of goods and tourists across the border; the important economic and diplomatic partnership between the United States and Canada; and cooperation between both nations’ respective border security agencies.

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com

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