Washington senate approves funds for border security

WASHINGTON - The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $5 million in funding to help improve security along Washington state's border during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.

"The Olympic Games are right around the corner, and we must be prepared," Sen. Patty Murray, a member of the committee who secured the money, said in a news release Thursday. "This funding supports projects homeland security officials at the federal, state and local levels identified as being their top priorities."

The funding includes $4 million for a 2010 Olympics Coordination Center at the Customs and Border Protection Air Wing in Bellingham. The center would allow officials from all levels of government to prepare and respond to any incident.

Major Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, the state's military commander, said the center would synchronize the operations of more than 40 federal, state, local and international agencies during the Olympics.

"The coordination center will ensure safe travel and border transit for international visitors and residents of Washington state and Pacific Northwest alike," Lowenberg said, adding the center was critical to providing border security during the Games.

The committee also provided $500,000 for training, to conduct exercises and prepare emergency response plans and another $500,000 to expand a wireless communication network tower on Mount Sumas.

In addition, the committee approved $10 million for a national Northern Border Prosecution Initiative that will help pay the costs of local prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and jails. A similar program exists for the southern border. Law enforcement and justice officials along the Canadian border, including those in Whatcom County, say their costs have skyrocketed because of heightened security along the border.

The money would be distributed by the Department of Justice based on a formula.

The funding was included in two bills, the homeland security appropriations bill and the commerce justice science appropriations bill. The measures still have to be approved by the full Senate. Chances for final congressional passage of appropriations bills is uncertain, and there has been some indications action may be put off until next year or at least until after the November elections.