Dec. 1, 2005 A St. John man is urging the V.I. Port Authority to apply for a waiver from Homeland Security to remove the fence now strung across the Cruz Bay ferry dock. The Port Authority put up the fence July 1, 2004 in response to Homeland Security directives.
Martin Alperen, an assistant attorney general on leave to work on a master's degree in Homeland Security from the Naval Postgraduate School, Center for Homeland Defense and Security, said from his base in Colorado Springs that the fence is ineffective.
"The money is wasted that could be used on something more important," Alperen said.
He said he believes terrorists could enter the Virgin Islands through St. John, but that the fence won't serve as a deterrent.
Alperen said they could come in along with the unknown number of illegal aliens who land on St. John's remote shores every year.
"The Virgin Islands is the proverbial back door. Osama bin Laden could come in with a bunch of Haitians and Santo Dominicans," he said.
He said that they can buy a ticket at the ferry dock like other passengers and head to St. Thomas or they can hop a speedboat to Puerto Rico.
Alperen takes no issue with the need for meaningful security, but he said it would not be practical to implement in this situation. He said what the territory needs is an effective border patrol with boats and helicopters and a more effective police force.
He said watchful residents are the first line of defense, but many distrust the police because some are rude and don't respond when called.
"There is little rapport with the police," he said.
Mel Vanterpool, who heads up the local Homeland Security office, said he would not comment on the matter. He also said he refused to provide information to Alperen for his thesis.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen said that the fence is an interim measure put in place when Homeland Security mandated that all jurisdictions come up with a plan.
"Other places have done the same thing," she said.
She agreed with Alperen that the current situation isn't very effective because the security guard makes no checks.
Port Authority director Darlan Brin did not return a phone call requesting comment. V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency head Harold Baker was off-island.
Alperen writes that the fence is completely ineffective, wastes resources and is a public relations disaster. He said that the ferries are the island equivalent of the cross-town bus. He said that similar scrutiny and roadblocks are not in place on city buses and subways on the mainland.
He said that ferry boat tickets are now collected at the fence rather than at the boat as was the case before the fence went up. A security guard is on duty to open and shut the gate. He does not look into bags, boxes or containers, but does confiscate food because the ferry companies prohibit eating and drinking on board.
"He took my potato chips and I put away my bottle of water," Alperen said.
He said that according to the law, the security people are supposed to check identification, but that seldom happens.
Alperen said that the fence doesn't work because anyone who wants to can walk around it in the two-foot deep water. He said that since many people wear shorts and flip-flops, the person who waded around the fence wouldn't look out of place.
Additionally, he said anyone who wants to can climb through the unscreened window in the seating area, walk along the ledge outside the waiting room and get to the secured area of the dock.
"Or one could simply purchase a ticket," he writes.
He writes that people can avoid the fence by taking the barge that runs between St. John and St. Thomas. He said the barge, which he calls a car ferry, is exempt from the Homeland Security rules because they do not carry 150 passengers or more.
He said that to start inspecting the barges would cripple business. He said it would be the equivalent of inspecting vehicles traveling between two stateside towns.
He estimated that 70 percent of the people arriving legitimately on St. John arrive by the ferry. Another 25 percent are passengers in the cars and trucks aboard the barge. Another 5 percent come on private boats.
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