State Department sets time limit on border crossing permits.
By Eric Kulisch
The U.S. State Department on April 24 modified the process to include an expiration date for all presidential permits issued for the construction, operation and maintenance of land border ports of entry.
The change potentially jeopardizes projects that often take a long time to receive funding from Congress.
'Delays in funding may trigger additional delays in the reissuance of a permit and then further complicate the funding process leading to longer delays in proceeding with the large backlog of land port infrastructure needs along our borders with Canada and Mexico,' the Border Trade Alliance said in a statement.
Under the new rules, permits covering border crossings for vehicles will expire within 10 years while those for pedestrian, pipeline and other crossings will not be valid beyond five years, unless the permit holder notifies the department that construction has begun.
In December, the State Department issued a permit for the new Otay Mesa East crossing near San Diego to the General Services Administration that included an expiration clause for the first time.
The notice in the Federal Register said the deadline 'provides sufficient time for viable projects to advance while preventing unexecuted permits from creating needless uncertainty and/or hindering the development of worthy projects that would better serve the national interest.'
The State Department is authorized to approve any new facilities crossing the international border of the United States. Since 1968, it has issued 21 presidential permits for non-pipeline border crossings on the U.S.-Mexico border and one for the U.S.-Canada border.
Of the southwest border projects, most began construction within two to five years. One project took 16 years to be built, one is under construction nearly 30 years after receiving a permit, and three are not likely to be built even though their permits are more than 10 years old.
The three permits were issued to the city of Mission, Texas, the Union Pacific Railroad Co., and the Brownsville Navigation District.
The State Department said it is considering revoking those permits due to inaction, changed circumstances (such as new transportation or development patterns) in the project area, development of nearby projects, and lack of interest in pursuing the corresponding infrastructure in Mexico.
Permits are issued following an environmental impact review and input from other federal agencies. The process is designed to ensure that border crossings are only built if there is clear local, binational and interagency support for the project, and is in the U.S. national interest.
Despite the small number of actual permits issued, sponsors must submit an application with technical information on all border projects for the State Department to determine whether a permit is required. The first-stage review alone can take a long time.
Building an underutilized facility would waste U.S. government resources on construction and ongoing customs staffing, the State Department said.
'At the same time, the department recognizes that, by their nature, border crossing projects are complex, time consuming and subject to political, financial, regulatory and logistical setbacks. It is unrealistic to expect permits to be implemented instantly and it would be inefficient to set permit expiration dates on such a short timeframe that the relevant agencies are required to review them repeatedly while waiting for construction to begin,' it said.
A permit holder can submit a revised application if it still believes a project should be built following the expiration date. The application should include demonstrations of current local support, financial feasibility, updated environmental review documents and traffic studies that prove the project's benefit.
'Although I understand that State doesn't want to issue an open-ended permit, the reality is that the permitting process is quite lengthy to get a permit approved in the majority of instances, and funding for land port infrastructure is limited, and episodic at best. Throwing another variable into the already complicated equation doesn't seem to equate toward progress in adding capacity at our border crossings in support of trade, security and economic competitiveness,' said Matt Howe, director of public policy for the Border Trade Alliance.