With more security agents along the Canadian border, the population in the area is rising.

JACKMAN (AP) – A housing boom is being felt in the small isolated communities of Jackman and Moose River as an influx of border security agents has brought in well-paid newcomers.

Clustered together near the Canadian border in Somerset County, Jackman and Moose River have experienced years of decline.

Jackman’s population fell 28 percent, from 1,003 to 718, between 1980 and 2000 as forestry jobs disappeared and families moved away. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 47 percent of Jackman’s housing units were vacant in 2000, a rate five times the national average.

But since the terrorist attacks in 2001, the U.S. government has redoubled its efforts to better secure its border. At the nearby border crossing into Canada, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has roughly doubled its manpower in the past year – causing house construction to go up and “For Sale” signs to disappear.

“We are building houses like it is going out of style,” said Terry Doyle, owner of Remote Realty in Jackman.

Doyle said housing demand is the greatest he’s seen in his 16 years in town. Driving the boom is the inflow of new federal employees who can afford to buy a $150,000 home, much more than most local people can spend, said Doyle.

Beth Bell, town clerk of Moose River, said some people are concerned the boom will be followed by a bust. For the time being, though, she and her husband are enjoying the added business for her husband’s concrete company.

“I know we did an awful lot of foundations in the area for those folks and they were pretty good size foundations in comparison with what the locals have been doing,” said Bell.

Richard Curtis, principal of Forest Hills High School and superintendent of the local school system, said the new families have been good for the schools and stabilized enrollment that had been falling.

Of the 187 students at Forest Hills, Curtis said 23, about 12 percent, are children of federal employees. By the time staffing at the border station peaks, he expects 10 or 12 more.

In his office at the border station, interim Port Director Francis LaCasse said he doesn’t see any new border positions going away any time soon, although the final decision rests in Washington, D.C.

“I think the world might dictate what happens here. It is global issues today,” said LaCasse.

Not all the new arrivals will want to stay, but LaCasse said he believes some will. LaCasse, who grew up in Jackman and moved away before returning after for a border job, said the area has a lot to offer, including a safe community and outdoor recreation opportunities like hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and camping.

“I left because of work. There weren’t a lot of decent job openings,” said LaCasse.

With border positions opening up, LaCasse said he encourages local people to apply. That sits well with Jackman Town Manager Kathleen MacKenzie if it means more reason for young people to stay and others to return home.

“I think we need to recognize as a community that it is an excellent opportunity,” said MacKenzie.

AP-ES-12-14-03 1231EST

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