Terrorism threat brings about temporary highway checkpoint

Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Gov. Tony Knowles ordered state civil defense workers to set up a temporary checkpoint along the Dalton Highway to scrutinize traffic near the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

The move came in response to FBI warnings of new terrorist attacks that may be carried out in the United States within days.

Though no specific threats were leveled against the pipeline, Knowles said monitoring traffic on the only road leading to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields is "a necessary measure."

The checkpoint will be in place for at least two weeks and may be extended, he said.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and several state agencies also were ordered to step up security along the pipeline during this period of heightened alert.

"People can be confident that that national asset is well protected," Knowles said.

Security workers began stopping motorists at a checkpoint established south of the Yukon River bridge, about 100 miles north of Fairbanks. The structure holds the pipeline and was identified by state officials as important to guard.

"That specific point is where the pipeline could be most vulnerable, also where a large spill, if it were to happen, could cause the most damage and be the hardest to repair," said Knowles' spokesman Bob King.

Seven members of the Alaska State Defense Force, a 250-member volunteer group, were activated Monday to provide the security. They will be stationed there 24 hours a day, Knowles said.

A state trooper will also be assigned to the checkpoint to check drivers licenses and vehicle registrations, said Greg Wilkinson, a spokesman for the troopers.

Only about 100 vehicles per day use the highway during the winter months and most are in support of oil operations on the North Slope, Wilkinson said.

The security detail will have police powers to search vehicles and detain suspicious motorists for questioning, Knowles said.

The oil pipeline has been ever-present on the minds of state disaster officials since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. The pipeline makes a tempting target since it is the largest structure of its kind in the world and carries 17 percent of the nation's oil production.

There have been several threats and at least two attacks on the line during its history, but none have been the work of international terrorists.

Alyeska Spokesman Tim Woolston said the company's security force has been on heightened state of alert since the terrorist attacks.

"Certainly, there are additional steps we are taking today," Woolston said Tuesday.

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