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Port Cameras

Will Bartell of Cascade Networks Inc. adjusts a security camera he is installing at the port of Longview's Main Gate in April.

Bill Wagner / Daily News file photo

Doug Averett remembers the regulars who used to fish under the Port of Longview docks more than a decade ago.

They were mostly older men who staked out their favorite spots to haul in steelhead or sturgeon. They'd park at the port, then walk down the road through the industrial area to toss a line in the Columbia River.

The Sept. 11 attacks 10 years ago put an end to the fishing, said Averett, the port's director of operations for the past 24 years. Now, hundreds of feet of chain-link fences restrict access to most of the port waterfront. To get inside the gates, an ID card is required, and obtaining one requires an extensive background check.

"It's kind of sad in a way, because we had this openness for the community," Averett said.

Nationwide, ports have spent $2.6 billion ramping up security in the 10 years since the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, according to the American Association of Port Authorities.

The Port of Longview has spent $450,000 since 2001 installing fences, security lighting and nearly a dozen wireless security cameras. The port received $358,500 in grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The remaining $91,500 came from the port's general fund.

The port also plans to spend an additional $100,000 in federal funds over the next few years to update its security plan and install a portwide warning system, Averett said.

The Port of Longview also hired a private security firm for the first time in 2002, Averett said. The firm now working at the port, Reliant Security, employs about 25 union workers, who are paid by the port with no federal help, he said. The cost of the contract was not immediately available.

The port had no need for a security force before 2001, operating with only a part-time spotter who looked for fires, Averett said.

"It was a different world."

In 2008, the federal Transportation Security Administration began requiring all people entering secured port locations to show an ID card at the gate. Federal officials feared that terrorists could get on port property and damage ships or docks, which could disrupt millions of dollars of commerce on the waterfront on either coast.

Accessing the port now requires a TWIC card (Transportation Worker Identification Card). All port personnel, longshoremen, contractors, vendors, truck drivers were subjected to a months-long background check to qualify for the card to access the waterfront, Averett said.

Averett added that people grumbled at first about the new regulations, especially those who lost their favorite fishing hole. But now, a decade later, most people at the port have gotten used to it, he said.

"It's a fact of life," Averett said, adding that he believes the investments have made the port more secure.

All incoming sailors from foreign countries must go through U.S. customs before they can leave the port for shore leave, the same as during pre-9/11 days, Averett said. However, the added security makes it less likely that those people could sneak past customs agents and into town, he said.

About eight miles south, the Port of Kalama has spent about $1.3 million to beef up security over the past decade, installing fences, gates, security guard shacks, lights, radios and a nine-camera wireless network, port spokeswoman Liz Newman said.

The ports of Kalama and Longview are labelled as a "ports of lesser consequence," meaning they doesn't handle hazardous or military cargo that might become a terrorist target, Averett said.

Newman said the security cameras and fencing have put a halt to most of the small acts of vandalism that would strike the Port of Kalama before 9/11.

"I'm not sure we had a huge risk. Do I think we're more secure? Yes," she said.

National port association officials say they're worried that federal funding for port security could drop off in tight budget times. After U.S. troops killed Osama bin Laden this summer in Pakistan, U.S. forces discovered al Qaida plans to target the maritime industry, highlighting the importance of continued port security, according to the American Association of Port Authorities.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine and Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduce a bill this spring to set aside $1.5 billion over five years to boost port security nationwide, which the port association supports.

"Only by continuing to make port security a top priority will America's seaports be able to continue serving their vital functions as trade gateways, catalysts for job creation and economic prosperity, and important partners in our national defense," said Kurt Nagle, the port association's president in a written statement.

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