Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ridley Island, is it the last line of security for Canada?

The Port Corporation is finally providing some details on the mystery security gates that went up on Ridley Island recently. Many thought that their arrival denoted the end of access to the beach area of the Island a popular place for locals to take a drive to, a chance to get out of the city and go and watch the waves break over the rocks or go for a walk with or without a dog, on a sunny day.

As it turns out, the gates are part of an increased level in the name of national security. And while circumstances may come about to limit access to the area, for the moment the Port Corporation says that access is still available to the public within reason.

As the port describes the situation, it’s a precautionary measure designed to manage any incidents that may come up. What constitutes a national security incident isn’t actually detailed, though it all comes with some suitably Tom Clancy like language,

Currently it would appear that the Port of Prince Rupert is under a MARSEC Level 1, should it ever be deemed necessary to go to a higher level, the gates will drop and at which point we assume that Jack Bauer will get a call and you’ll be making plans for your walk or bonfire elsewhere.

The Daily News featured the developments in Friday’s paper.

Port says barrier will be closed in emergencies
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Friday, December 14, 2007
Pages one and five

The newly installed gates and security booth on the road to Ridley Island are simply a precautionary measure to protect national security, according to the Prince Rupert Port Authority.

Along with the recent installation of the gates came a wave of scrutiny around the limiting of public access to the area. Members of the Port Authority have been adamant that the gates are simply a precautionary measure that needs to be in place in order to properly manage any incidents.

“For the foreseeable future, the primary purpose of putting those gates in is a part of building up the port security infrastructure,” said Barry Bartlett, communications and public affairs manager for the port authority. “Under normal circumstances we’re in MARSEC (Maritime Security) Level 1, and under those circumstances there are not closures. If we have an incident that occurs, it allows us to immediately drop the gates, secure the area, address the issue, and then return to Level 1.”

The only way a higher level of marine security can be brought up is by notification from Transport Canada, which gives the Port Authority 12 hours to secure and reach that higher security level. David Fisher, operations and maintenance manager for the port authority says that at some point in the future, access could indeed be cut off to the public, when national security becomes a larger risk.

“We’re not looking to shut out the world, but they’re also there as a deterrent from stopping as many issues as we have out here,” he said.

“It’s a big island, and there’s a lot of liability out here. We have to measure our liability issues, and as it grows with more industry, there is the capability of locking down the island. But there is no immediate future plan to do that,” said Fisher.

Bartlett says the port is doing its best to balance the public needs with security needs, and as part of that balance the gates will remain open during times when people could have legitimate reasons for accessing Ridley Island.

He says there are a number of ongoing problems making things more difficulty for security, like when late night tailgating parties are held and people leave behind a mess for employees to clean up.

“It’s the kind of thing where we’re asking people to be reasonable, responsible and safe, and then there aren’t any issues,” said Bartlett.

Fisher said the Port Authority and all other stakeholders have security issues that are discussed through the Port Security Committee, made up of the Prince Rupert Grain, Ridley Terminals Inc., Alaska Ferries, RCMP, Prince Rupert Fire Department and others. The purpose of the committee is to look at current security measures and decide if everyone’s security concerns are being met, and whether any measures in place are unnecessary or too strong.

“The gates are just one of the issues, and they have created a lot of controversy,” said Fisher. “But I truly believe we’ve done it for the betterment of national security and the commerce of the country. If it happens to shut down and inconvenience a person from walking their dog at Ridley Island, they should know it’s part of national security.”

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