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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Videophone home

Area officials unveil border protection at Dunkirk harbor

Region Editor

OBSERVER Photo by Justin GoetzRep. Brian Higgins demonstrates the new video phone at the Dunkirk Pier.

7/6/2006 - Canadian boaters who want to come to Dunkirk or even Chautauqua County can now do so legally without having to make a stop in Buffalo. On Wednesday Rep. Brian Higgins (D-South Buffalo) and Dunkirk Mayor Richard Frey formally introduced the new customs and border protection videophone recently installed at the city harbor. “The videophone is an important investment for the Dunkirk Harbor and the greater Dunkirk area. This videophone will serve to provide greater access to this beautiful city and its harbor by way of the Dunkirk City Pier. Now, not only can U.S. vessels explore this area, but international vessels will have the opportunity to experience what Dunkirk and its waterfront have to offer,” he said. Dunkirk Mayor Richard Frey said they’ve been trying to get a videophone installed for years. “This is something 20 years in the making,” he said. The videophone allows U.S. boaters who have been in Canada to legally claim their items electronically. It also permits non-U.S. boaters to show their proper papers to a U.S. border official without going through Customs in person. Frey said he believes many new visitors will be stopping in Dunkirk. “It opens up our borders to Canadian boaters. Before they didn’t have a port of entry,” he said. Keith D. Konopa, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said there are 16 videophones in New York state on Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Niagara River and the St. Lawrence River. The way the phones work is boaters pull up, park their vessel, and call the U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection to state their intentions. Konopa did admit the videophone rely on a person’s integrity. “It’s for honest boaters who want to comply,” he said. The phones are available from April to November, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. “The phones are taken down in the winter months,” Konopa added. Before this videophone was installed in Dunkirk, boaters had to go to Erie, Pa. or Buffalo in order to enter the U.S. when crossing Lake Erie. “This is a good halfway point of entry,” Konopa said. According to Konopa, the phones in the other locations were installed years ago. The reason it took so long for Dunkirk to get its own videophone is because new ones are no longer made. “This phone came from an under-utilized site and was relocated here,” he said during the news conference at the pier. Frey said some of the local yacht clubs will be getting the word out to Canadian boaters about Dunkirk’s new videophone. Next year the city will put information about the new videophone in its brochures. Frey, a Republican, thanked city Development Director Maclain Nichols and Higgins for making the videophone a reality. “You don’t have to be a Republican, Democrat, Independence, or whatever to make something happen,” he said.

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