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The Quad-City International Airport unveiled a next-generation U.S. Customs and Border Protection Facility on Tuesday that will enhance the agency's enforcement capabilities locally.

The $2.4 million project converted a vacant, former air cargo building into an inspection facility for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to process international passengers arriving on general aviation flights.

According to Bruce Carter, the airport's aviation director, planning began  in 2012 in the wake of tightened regulations. "If we were going to keep Customs in the Quad-Cities, we knew we were going to have to build a new facility that could accommodate at least 19 passengers off a general aviation flight," he said.

The previous office, located in the Civil Air Patrol building at the airport, was too small to handle that many passengers, he said. To conduct inspections of larger groups, the customs officer would go onto general aviation aircraft or meet the passengers at Elliott Aviation on the airport grounds, which Carter said eventually will not be allowed.

"This gives Moline a true inspection facility for arriving international passengers,'' said Anthony Dolas, facility manager for U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Chicago field office, which oversees Moline's operation. "If you're a passenger flying in from another country, this is your first Port of Entry.''

Within the facility, passengers will have a pre-screening waiting area as the officer processes each passenger individually for immigration and customs issues. "We were providing the services before but we didn't have an inspection area." The Quad-City Port of Entry office, manned by one officer, Anthony Howe, now has the physical space and enforcement equipment to function more fully, Dolas said.

The facility includes office space, a processing room, an interview room, a room for agricultural inspections, and holding cells for when a passenger is prohibited from entering the country or being detained and/or transported by law enforcement.

Carter said the $2.4 million project was funded by $1.9 million in federal funds with the remainder covered by state and local funding. The construction team included contractor Russell Construction, Gere-Dismer Architects and Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, the engineering firm.

Bryan Johnson, the airport's assistant aviation director, said the long-range goal is to renovate the remainder of cargo building into a Federal Inspection Services facility, or international passenger terminal. It would be for passengers flying commercially from direct international destinations, such as Mexico or Canada.

The project, which he described as Phase 2, will not be necessary until the Quad-City airport gets a direct international flight.

"Say we got Allegiant, or some carrier, to serve Cancun or operate another international flight, then with the second phase we would improve the rest of this building to accommodate 150 passengers,"  Carter said. He added that the plan is on the drawing board, but airport officials are not close to landing any such service.

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