ORLEANS, N.Y. (WWTI) — The fight over Blind Bay has come to an end.

On Wednesday, April 13, the Thousand Islands Land Trust announced that it has acquired 295 feet of undeveloped waterfront property and over 20 acres of adjacent upland in Blind Bay in the town of Orleans along the St. Lawrence River.

This was the site previously chosen by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for a potential 48,000 square foot Border Protection facility, which was surrounded by controversy.

According to TILT, Blind Bay is a shallow aquatic ecosystem with submersed vegetation. This allows for “critical” spawning, rearing and foraging habitats for many fish species. Scientists from SUNY ESF have documented 53 fish species in Blind Bay including the muskellunge, known as the St. Lawrence River’s “most important sportfish.”

But in response to a proposed CBP facility, both TILT and local organization Save The River said that all elements of the facility, including its construction, maintenance and operations posed many ecological, environmental and economical threats to the local community.

This was documented in an original letter in opposition from Save The River in late February regarding the facility, as well as similar letters from TILT, community members and several elected officials including Senator Charles Schumer, Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, Jefferson County Legislator Phil Reed, Thousand Islands Park Association and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Region 6.

TILT Executive Director Jake Tibbles said that this drive of opposition ultimately led the Land Trust in acquiring Blind Bay.

“Discussions surrounding the proposed USCBP facility and the community’s concerns have reinforced the importance of being proactive in conserving the sensitive habitats that are so critical to the health of the River, a thriving economy and our overall quality of life,” Tibbles said in a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The new agreement between TILT and Blind Bay Associates LLC will ensure that the land will be protected for wildlife conservation purposes and prohibit any future development along the waterfront.

“This agreement ensures that lands critical to the health of the River, our local economy, and way of life
are protected for current and future generations,” Tibbles explained. “The proposed USCBP facility would significantly damage the Bay’s shallow ecosystem that provides critical habitat for over 50 fish species, including St. Lawrence River muskellunge. We are grateful to all the members of our community and many others who have worked together to help protect this important piece of the River’s ecosystem.”

“The preservation of one of the most prolific muskellunge spawning areas in the Upper St. Lawrence is very important to the survival of the apex predator in the River. Save The River applauds TILT’s bold initiative in protecting this critical habitat that is essential to support biodiversity in the River and along its shorelines,” Save The River Executive Director John Peach added. “TILT’s commitment to conserving critical habitat throughout the Thousand Islands combined with Save The River’s advocacy on behalf of the River has made this Blind Bay acquisition possible. It is an excellent example of advocacy and conservation working hand in hand for the long-term benefit of our region.”

The acquisition of land in Blind Bay was made final on Monday, April 11, 2022. Full letters from Save The River and TILT regarding the announcement can be read below: