There are a couple of places in Genesee County where you can go to get a passport, such as the post office or the County Clerk's office, so Rep. Chris Lee's indefatigable push to get a regional passport office in Western New York seemed a little over done.
Yesterday, I e-mailed County Clerk Don Read and asked him to clarify the urgent need for such an office.
Read explained that normal processing through his office can take 4 to 6 weeks, and eight weeks during peak periods. There is a process for expedited processing, but these options are either inconvenient or expensive.
June 1, The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative takes effect and it will require passports or passport cards for people traveling to and from Canada.
Read said the change in travel requirements will catch more people by surprise as unexpected trips arrive. A passport office in WNY will make urgent acquisitions of passports easier.
"Many people are preparing for this by obtaining one of the acceptable documents, but there will be many whose travel to Canada will not be anticipated or routine," Read said. "These are the cases where a Passport Agency in Western New York will be extremely valuable and will provide our area with the same type of service which already exists in other areas across the norther border and also the southern border. The Niagara Frontier is one of the busiest access points to Canada."
Lee's and Rep. Brian Higgin's constant attention to this issue seems to have paid off. On Friday, Lee put out a press release stating that the State Department has agreed to open a passport agency office in the Buffalo-Niagrara Falls region.
In a joint statement, the lawmakers applauded the State Department’s decision, while cautioning that it was not yet official:“The State Department has informed us of its intention to open a passport office in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls region. This is great news for Western New Yorkers, who currently have to travel to New York City or Detroit to acquire a passport in short order, all while living just miles from one of the nation’s busiest border crossings. Of course, this is just the beginning of a process, but we are confident that at the end of the day, Western New Yorkers will have access to this one-stop shop for passports. In the meantime, we will continue to work with federal, state, and local officials to ensure the implementation of the next phase of WHTI goes as smoothly as possible for local residents and businesses.”