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Capital city encounters a year of security changes, challenges

Airport staff struggles to meet federal rules

Posted: Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Passengers at the Juneau Airport navigate remodeled screening checkpoints and parking lots. State ferry travelers show photo identification. And people walking along the dock downtown encounter occasional detours.

One year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, security in Juneau is tighter. And along the city's docks and at the airport, new procedures are visible.

At the Juneau Airport, for instance, work has changed drastically for Manager Allan Heese and his staff. The airport has closed and reopened parking lots, rearranged its passenger screening checkpoint, added equipment and built new rest rooms inside the departure lounge.

"It's important to acknowledge the public's patience in what they've had to go through and the challenges they've had to meet," he said. "Without the public's participation in a positive way, it could have been a bigger nightmare."

Some restrictions have eased in Juneau. The short-term parking lot at the airport, closed after Sept. 11, reopened in April. Discussion about closing the Airport Dike Trail, which runs along the perimeter of the airport, waned. And the downtown docks, closed to the public in the days after Sept. 11, were kept open this year with some restrictions around cruise ship passenger boarding areas.

In recent days, airport staff has been grappling with a federal requirement to install new checked-bag-screening procedures and equipment by the end of the year, Heese said.

"That topic is consuming a tremendous amount of time," he said. "It's an extremely difficult problem to solve. It's very easy to say we're going to put some machines in and do this, that's what Congress said. But for that to happen with minimal impact to tenants and passengers is very difficult."

The airport is close to a solution, Heese said, although its bag-screening plan still needs to be signed off and funded by the federal government. The airport probably can use smaller machines than earlier thought and keep them out of travelers' way, he said.

The Alaska Marine Highway System implemented new ticketing and baggage-handling procedures after Sept. 11 and now requires photo identification from its passengers. Coast Guard Cmdr. Steve Ohnstad said the Marine Safety Office in Juneau has been working with port communities and the cruise ship industry since Sept. 11 to update security plans.

"In general in Southeast, the biggest focus has been on cruise ships," he said. "Not that other things aren't important, they are. It's just that the visibility of cruise ships is huge."

In Juneau and Ketchikan where the docks are part of downtown, the task became a balancing act. The public was able to walk along Juneau's downtown docks this year, although ship entrances were cordoned off.

"We've established a plan that strikes a good balance between reasonable public access and security, in concert with the Coast Guard," City Port Director Joe Graham said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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