CALAIS, Maine — Dignitaries from Washington and Boston plan to attend a groundbreaking for a new U.S. port of entry. The ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 19. The event marks the official start of construction on the $48 million U.S. Customs house. The facility is part of a third border crossing planned to connect Calais and St. Stephen, New Brunswick.

Right now two bridges — the downtown Ferry Point Bridge and the Milltown Bridge — near the city’s industrial park serve the two communities. Both bridges have customs facilities.

Among those planning to attend the groundbreaking are U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Democratic 2nd District U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, along with Gov. John Baldacci. Officials from the U.S. General Services Administration — the agency building the facility — and the Department of Homeland Security also plan to attend.

While officials are formally kicking off construction, work on the third bridge is moving along. Maine and New Brunswick are sharing the cost of the $8 million bridge, but the bridge will be entirely American-made. Once complete, the bridge will span the St. Croix River. Plans call for the U.S. Customs house to be partially ready by May 2009 and finished by November that year. Canada expects to have its $20 million customs house completed by the end of this year.
When the project started two years ago, it was hoped both customs facilities would be ready by the end of this year, but the GSA plan ran into problems that delayed construction. As a result, the two countries have been working on a compromise that U.S. officials believe would lead to the opening of the bridge at least to commercial truck traffic before summer 2009.