Oregon

Feeling Safe In The 'Largest Gated Community In The U.S.'

OPB | Sept. 11, 2009 1:38 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:10 a.m. | Point Roberts, WA

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By Barbara Leidl

Pt RobertsWhen terrorists attacked the U.S. eight years ago today, some people found it hard to feel safe in places like New York City or Washington D.C.

Some of them even left. And a few moved to what is referred to as the “largest gated community in the U.S.”: Point Roberts,Washington.

Point Roberts is a small peninsula of roughly five square-miles, right beneath the 49th parallel.

You can only get there by boat, by plane or — if you drive— through Canada – by crossing two international borders. OPB’s Barbara Leidl reports.


In Point Roberts – tourists can be spotted easily. One sound gives them away.

The sound of a car locking is rare here. And if you do lock your car – you get a very puzzled look from Point Roberts residents like Pat Grubb, the publisher of the local newspaper All Point Bulletin.

Pat Grubb: “I don’t really know if I should tell the truth on this one, because who knows who’d wanna come down, but, I guess, I can say I very seldom lock the doors. We leave the keys in the car.”

Lily PointThat's a habit that long-time resident Linda Hughes, a mother of two, and her husband share.

Linda Hughes: “Well, the sheriff reports are printed in the paperperiodically and some of the biggest crime that happens here is a theft andthen they show the value at $4.80 or perhaps a window’s been broken in a localcabin because teenagers may have been bored. Not of lot of crime in thisneighborhood. We never hear of any arms or gunfire or domestic violence turningreally ugly. We don’t hear about that at all.”

About 1200 people live on the Point year round – in the vacation season this number more than quadruples.

And because of its location, everyone has to cross the U.S.-border from Canada to get there by land.

Border conversation: “Where are you coming from today?”

“Oregon.”

Pt. Roberts 1“From Oregon?”

“Today, ya.”

“So this is a rental?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, ok….”

Of course, the line at the border can be annoying – if you just want to leave Point Roberts to go to the dentist or to go shopping for clothes. But the hassle is outweighed by one big advantage, says Linda Hughes.

Linda Hughes: “It’s like a giant gated community with Uncle Sam at the front door and he’s a pretty imposing character to get past.”

Point Roberts is also very green and surrounded by water on three sides. But it was not the natural beauty of the place that attracted people to come here after 9/11 –says newspaper-publisher Pat Grubb.

Pat Grubb: “It seemed like people would look at an atlas and figure out what spot in America was the farthest from where they lived – so we had people from Washington and from New York, people from Arizona. Our neighbor next door had her house up for sale at the time and she’s already accepted an offer. And she looked out the window one day and there is this man standing at the edge ofthe property and she said: 'Can I help you?' and he said 'Well, ya, I wanna buy your house.' And she says: 'Oh, I’m sorry, I’ve already accepted an offer.' And he says: 'No, you don’t understand, I’m from New York, I have a seven year old daughter, I WANT to buy your house.'”

Pt. RobertsThe September 11 attacks were the ultimate reason Anne Berman and her husband Steve moved to Point Roberts in 2003 from Iowa. Steve Berman had made frequent work-related trips to New York and Anne Berman had interviewed New York firemen for her work.

Anne Berman: “So I took their stories with me and I took their fear and their anxiety, so when we had our second child in 2003 the piece was finished, but that did carry me through and so when we found out  about Point Roberts and here we have that precious little newborn child and Steve does travel a lot, I was so happy when I found this place, because I felt like, hah, it really is that people don’t lock their doors here, we still do lock our doors, but it gave me that extra sense of safety and community that I don’t think I would get if I were just back in a small town in Iowa where I had been before 9/11 hit.

Longtime Point Roberts residents noted other changes after 9/11, including heightened border security. That change was hard on some businesses.

Joan Roberts owns Brewster’s restaurant.

Joan Roberts: “After 9/11 the Food and Drug administration established a system where you preregistered any food you were bringing in from Canada. Each item was its own form, so if it was 30 items it would take me about two hours to fill in these forms. So the paper work basically eliminated that option for me.”

She also had to let workers go and scale back her business. Roberts left the Point recently. She thought she was leaving for good–but then she came back. Like many others here she can’t imagine living anywhere else.

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