Some Washington border residents irked with federal agents

  • By Isabelle Dills and Zoe Fraley The Bellingham Herald
  • Friday, June 17, 2011 1:50pm
  • Local NewsNorthwest

BELLINGHAM — A few residents increasingly frustrated by federal agents driving through their property near the U.S.-Canada border chained, and in some cases, locked their gates Thursday to stop the vehicles from coming on their land.

Real estate agent Dennis Hill, who is an advocate for the

residents, said that in addition to locking gates, landowners would be displaying signs that read, “No government vehicles beyond this point.” It is up to the landowners how long they want to leave their gates locked, he said.

Friction between residents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents has increased since Lynden resident Wayne P. Groen was found guilty in April of incapacitating a Customs pilot by shining a spotlight on a helicopter. His sentencing is set for August.

Hill said he knew of at least three landowners who were locking their gates Thursday. They live on Jackman, West Badger and Halverstick roads.

“A lot of people along the border are tired of them going in and out of their property,” Hill said.

Berry farmer Darryl Ehlers, 74, lives on Halverstick and is one of the people chaining up his fence. He said he won’t lock it, so that if border agents have to get onto his property they can, but he hopes the extra work makes them think twice about being respectful of private property.

“They have the pretty strong idea that ‘I can go where I want, when I want,'” Ehlers said. “This changes the tune to make them take heed. You’ve got other people with other feelings.”

More residents are expected to participate after Tuesday, when more signs will be made available during a 6:30 p.m. meeting at the Mt. Baker Rotary Building in Lynden.

Hill said locking up the gates was not a “protest,” but “an effort to create better communication” between residents and border agents.

“Most (residents) would like it if they knew (the border agents) on a first-name basis,” Hill said.

If border agents are in pursuit of someone, they should be able to enter a property, Hill said. By locking or chaining the gates, Hill said residents are hoping to deter agents from “snooping around.”

“The general sentiment is the northern border is being treated the same as the southern border,” Hill said. “It’s not the same situation.”

In response to the chained and locked gates, border agents likely will access the border by foot or by other means if the situation isn’t urgent, Blaine sector Border Patrol spokesman Richard Sinks said in an email. If there is an emergency or urgent need to get onto a property, agents likely will make an attempt to contact the landowner or cut the lock, depending on the situation.

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