MAIDA, N.D. (AP) — Gone are the days when U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents working in the town of Maida, population two, were forced to conduct inspections in frigid conditions and handcuff suspects to a desk until they could be transported elsewhere.
Gone, too, are the orange rubber cones that used to block the road when the station was closed.
And gone is the old border patrol facility that looked like a modest North Dakota home with a car port.
The new two-story, 5,200-square-feet station that opened this month at the Canadian border features protection from the elements, state-of-the-art detection equipment, holding cells, locker space, a fitness area and a full-service kitchen. Officials say the amenities should make passage safer and more convenient for people who cross the border.
"The old lighting, as you can see, is still in existence," U.S Customs and Border Protection port director Joey Loeffler said, pointing out older fixtures among a gauntlet of modern street lights. "Three light poles coming in and that was it."
Now the station should be seen from many miles away at night.
The $8.5-million project is funded through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which set aside $420 million to modernize at least 35 ports of entry along the northern border. The bill has allowed for 10 ports along the 310-mile North Dakota border to be upgraded, including smaller ports at Antler, Noonan and Sherwood.
The new Maida facility features cutting-edge inspection technologies, including a radiation monitor and camera and surveillance systems. Combined with increased patrols and recent unmanned aerial systems, the improvements have attempted to shore up what used to be a porous boundary that became an alarming issue after 9/11.
"If someone is going to try and get into the U.S., it's going to be hard now," said Chris Misson, U.S Customs and Border Protection public affairs liaison based in Pembina.
The Maida port, located 17 miles north of Langdon on state Highway 1, is the sister station to the Canadian port of Windygates, Manitoba, about a quarter of a mile down the road. The original Maida facility opened in 1961 and underwent little renovation work "other than new paint," Loeffler said.
"Later there was a canopy added on," he said.
The new facility has an inspection booth and canopy with radiant heat, two officer work stations and two pedestrian processing counters. Inside, where six sets of windows facing north give a panoramic view of the border and 6- to 8-inch block walls give sturdy protection, there are secure storage areas, an interview room, search room, fingerprint station, two holding areas and even an emergency eye wash sink.
The port is eco-friendly, with a solar panel system that provides hot water and a windmill that helps generate electricity.
Page 2 of 2 - "It's going to be way more secure and it's going to be a better working environment for the officers," Loeffler said. "At the same time, it will be more efficient for the travelling public."
Mondays can be slow, even for a port designated as low volume. During a two-hour period around the noon hour last week, inspectors saw only a pickup truck hauling a camper, and a van, each vehicle with two people inside.
Most of the traffic is the result of local Canadian residents coming down to camp at a nearby recreational area or dine at area restaurants, and seasonal commercial trucks hauling mostly fertilizer. Grandpa's Cabin, a new bar and grill that recently opened 4 1/2 miles from the port, has been attracting people from north of the border for what Loeffler calls its "big food nights": chicken on Wednesdays, fish on Fridays and steak on Saturdays.
The port of entry is open seven days a week, beginning at 9 a.m. Large metal gates block the road at the 10 p.m. closing time, along with a sign that warns in all capital letters, "To Avoid Severe Penalty Return to Canada."