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Measure to designate Plattsburgh airport a Port of Entry passes key U.S. House committee

          Plattsburgh International Airport terminal (file)
Pat Bradley
Plattsburgh International Airport terminal (file)

Plattsburgh officials are optimistic that an effort to obtain a Port of Entry status for the local airport could happen by the end of the year now that Congress has taken initial action.

The Plattsburgh International Airport is about 30 miles south of the Canadian border and its primary customer base is from Montreal. But the airport is not a designated Port of Entry. Clinton County Legislature Chair Republican Mark Henry says that means county taxpayers must unfairly pay to provide customs services.

“There are only two airports, at least that I know of, in the country that are fairly close to an international border, say within 30 miles that are not designated by the federal government as Ports of Entry. We and Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas are two airports in the country that are required to pay the fees of Customs and Border Protection to offer inspection services at these airports. So we are working together with Harlingen and their delegation down there, Representative (Vicente) Gonzales, to rectify that oversight.”

A provision in the Border Airport Enhancement Act introduced by Republican New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik would designate the Plattsburgh International Airport a Port of Entry. The bill recently advanced out of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Area 10 Democrat Bobby Hall chairs the county Legislature’s standing committee on the Plattsburgh International Airport.

“This is one of the first steps and the biggest step that we’ve had so far. I mean we’ve been asking for this for a long time. It’s a big monetary issue for the airport, very big for the taxpayers of Clinton County for one thing. We’re paying between $500,000 and $600,000 every year for Customs and right now we’re using Customs as some private planes are coming in and some cargo. But nowhere near that kind of money. Secondly, we really believe that this will help us get international travel. We want flights to the Dominican Republic. We want Jamaica. We want the Caribbean. We would love a flight to Paris. And it would really help us if we had Customs here all the time and it was a Port of Entry.”

North Country Chamber President Garry Douglas says local officials have been working on the designation for several years and hopes to achieve it by the end of this year.

“Years ago the U.S. government stopped allowing new Ports of Entry to be established at airports that weren’t already Ports of Entry. Being a full Port of Entry means that the federal government, Customs and Immigration fulfill their responsibilities without charging the airport for it. So we have a strange situation now that new airports coming on line, and Plattsburgh is a relatively new airport, are forced to cover all of the expenses, salaries and benefits and equipment and overtime, that Customs incurs to have people there doing their function. This creates a very unfair situation because for example airports that obtained their POE status prior to this requirement like Burlington or Albany are full Ports of Entry, have Customs presence but don’t have to pay for it but Plattsburgh does.”

While there is no assurance the measure will make it through all committees and the full House and Senate, Douglas is cautiously optimistic it will come to fruition.

“We have both U.S. Senators, including the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate on board on the Senate side. We have Congresswoman Stefanik who is the number three leader in the U.S. House. The majority present are on board on the House side. It’s something that should substantially be non-controversial. We ought to have a very good shot to move hopefully sometime before the end of the year as an attachment to something.”

Customs and Border Protection is already operating at Plattsburgh International and the Texas airport that is also seeking the Port of Entry designation.

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