Patty in the News

BELLINGHAM - Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has requested more funding to keep the Olympics Coordination Center near the Bellingham airport open long past the end of the Winter Games.

During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday, Feb. 24, in Washington, D.C., Murray asked Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to provide money to keep the center open past 2011. Napolitano implied she would be visiting the center this weekend, but the visit likely will be made by a department employee.

"Part of my job is going to be to talk to people about if this would make sense to do," Napolitano said during the hearing. "I have heard great reports, and my mind is very open. I just want to see what we have seen over the past couple of weeks, how it's been during the fall, and just get a sense from people on the ground about their feelings."

The Olympics Coordination Center is a place for local, state and federal agencies to work together to handle any issues during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C. Beyond the games, the center will provide a centralized place for a variety of agencies to come together for training, emergency management and response to any other incidents.

"Finally with this coordination center, we're getting to the point where we've really recognized that we've got to put the resources in (at the Canadian border), and this coordination center is a great model," Murray said during the hearing. "I think this would be a great effort to continue with all the complexities we have at the border. ... I think to pull the plug on that and lose that would be the wrong direction."

Once the Olympics are over, Washington will still have the third-busiest border crossing with Canada, Murray said. In Whatcom County, federal, state and local agencies have to work together to face the border's challenges.

"I'm certainly glad Senator Murray is pursuing this," Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said. "We've had high-level officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security say this is a model for operations and cooperation for the rest of the country. We certainly want to do everything we can to continue this important facility. Even after the Olympics are long gone, the need for this type of coordination in a border community is absolutely essential."

The center cost less than $4 million, which included the first two years of rent on the property, lasting into 2011. The hope for many agencies involved is for the center to continue to operate past that date, and continued federal funding would help with that goal.

"Having that direct face-to-face interaction with various agencies would be invaluable," said Andy Day, Bellingham assistant fire chief and leader of the city's Office of Emergency Management. "It's great that the Olympics served as an impetus to bring the center to reality. The next step is to look at sustaining the center."

- Bellingham Herald