Thursday, July 04, 2002

Coast Guard wants help in keeping river secure

By Michael D. Clark,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Coast Guard officials on the Ohio River have increased staffing since Sept. 11 but also say it's critical for citizens to help keep watch for terrorism on the region's main waterway.

[photo] Preparing an additional boat Wednesday for Ohio River patrolling are, from left, Mechanical Technician First Class Jay Willimon, Fireman Jerry Berling and Petty Officer Jay Huss.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        That is especially true for this Fourth of July holiday weekend, when federal authorities have warned that all Americans should be aware of their surroundings and for suspicious behavior.

        Since Sept. 11, Coast Guard officers patrolling the 156-mile stretch of the Ohio River that winds through Greater Cincinnati have been on heightened alert.

        The usual staff of six officers has been augmented with reservists. Officials would not say how many for security reasons.

        Before the attacks on New York and Washington, only 2 percent of the Coast Guard's inland patrols concentrated on port security and safety.

        Now, 30 percent of its work focuses on security, said Scott Thacker, a petty officer with Cincinnati's Coast Guard unit, during a recent briefing conducted for industry members of the Alliance for Chemical Safety.

        Without the boating public's help, Petty Officer Thacker said, the Coast Guard's job would be impossible.

    The U.S. Coast Guard is asking boaters to help spot suspicious behavior along the Ohio River.
Particularly sensitive areas:
Under and around bridges.
    Entrances to tunnels.
    Near power plants, oil and chemical facilities, water intakes and fuel docks.
Boaters should also look for:
Unattended vessels, unusual diving or filming activities, and fishing in unusual locations.
    Lights flashing between boats and shore at night, or frequent trips between shores.
    Recovering or tossing items in the river.
What to do:
    To report suspected terrorist activities, call the FBI at (313) 965-2323.
    To report other suspicious activity on or near the river, or to report spills, call the Coast Guard at (502) 582-6474.
        “We need everyone else involved with the river to help. The more eyes and ears out there will make this an easier job,” he said.

        Securing the many potential terrorist targets along the Ohio River is a daunting task, as evidenced by the more than 4,000 security inspections done since Sept. 11 by local Coast Guard patrols.

        Bridges, dams, power plants and oil and chemical facilities dot both sides of the river, and an average of 16 large, commercial barges pass along the river daily — all potential targets for terrorists, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Jay Huss.

        “We've been on heightened alert since Sept. 11 ... but luckily nothing locally has been found to be a threat,” Petty Officer Huss said.

        At the Meldahl Dam, on the Ohio River just east of New Richmond, public access from land — once available to any passerby without notice to dam officials — has been restricted since Sept. 11.

        Lock Master Jim Noble declined to reveal the new, tighter security measures, saying only “there are many.”

        “We used to be pretty open, but now you can't get on the dam anymore without a guided tour that is set up and approved in advance,” said Mr. Noble, who has worked at the dam for more than a quarter-century.

        The Independence Day holiday is one of the busiest for river boating traffic, said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Robert Bowen, and recent warnings of possible terrorism “has certainly ratcheted up awareness.”

        “We always appreciate the help of civilians,” said Lt. Cmdr. Bowen, but he stressed that recreational boaters shouldn't be overly concerned to the point of detracting from usual safety rules and simple enjoyment.

        “We want people to have fun, too,” he said.


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