The Port of Fernandina could potentially lose its “port of entry” designation because it does not have the money to build a new facility to house U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations (CBP).
The port of entry designation means the Port of Fernandina is authorized by the CBP to carry out customs and immigration operations including conducting inspections, processing immigration documents, collecting duties and taxes, and enforcing import and export regulations. It grants the port the authority to serve as an official point of entry for international trade and travel.
CBP has been operating out of a small wooden structure located in the Historic District at the corner of Dade and Third Street. CBP has repeatedly told the Ocean Highway and Port Authority that the house is not big enough, is in poor condition and substandard to continue its operations. OHPA has been discussing problems with the structure for the past several years.
Absent a new facility, CBP may move its operations to the Port of Jacksonville resulting in the possible loss of the “port of entry” classification for the port.
OHPA Commissioner Ray Nelson sounded the alarm about the possible loss of CBP at the district’s meeting Wednesday.
“They’re (CBP) saying they’re tired of the can being kicked and there’s nothing being done (regarding building concerns),” Nelson said. “There are no more (building) lease extensions. I was informed that the current facility that Customs is in does not meet in any shape, fashion or form what Customs requires.”
Nelson said Customs is looking for some kind of “movement and are we going to look at a new facility or are we going to sit down with them and negotiate the current facility which they have already said does not meet their criteria.”
He said Customs may act at the end of the year and give a 90-day notice that it will leave the Port of Fernandina.
“I can tell you right now we’re not going to build a new facility,” said OHPA Chairman Danny Fullwood. “There is no money.”
Nelson said Customs was very concerned about the need for more space to operate.
“The concern I have is that Customs comes back and says OK now the Port of Fernandina is not a port of entry,” Nelson said. “It was brought up in our conversations. Let’s not wait until the last minute. Bad things can happen in the event these officers go back to Jacksonville, where does the port of entry stand? Is it going to be kept intact and just operated through Jacksonville or ceased all together?”
Fullwood said he felt “that isn’t going to happen.” He asked the port operator and port executive director to meet with CBP to find solutions for the existing facility.
The problems with CBP are more than a year in the making after Customs sent OHPA a letter informing the port that the memorandum of agreement (MOA) outlined what the agency believes are OHPA’s responsibilities regarding the facility.