Homeland Security Yields Big Grants

Close to a Million in Federal Dollars Is Designated for Steamship Authority and for Town of Oak Bluffs

By JULIA WELLS

Homeland security came home this week when federal officials announced the award of two hefty grants totaling some $900,000 to improve port security on the Vineyard and in Woods Hole.

The money will go to the Steamship Authority ($624,000) and the Oak Bluffs emergency management department ($285,000).

The grants were announced by the Massachusetts congressional delegation this week.

"This funding is so desperately needed," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in a press release about the grant money this week.

"With the attraction that the Vineyard has for people from all over the world, there is good reason to be aware, to be vigilant and to understand that while there is no cause for alarm, common sense dictates that we take preventive measures," said Cong. William Delahunt from his office in Washington, D.C., yesterday.

"The Steamship Authority is the lifeline for Island residents, and clearly every effort should be made to protect their safety," said Mark Forest, an aide to Mr. Delahunt.

The funds are part of a $4.5 million grant package that will go to Massachusetts seaports from the federal Department of Homeland Security.

Mr. Forest and Mr. Delahunt said this week that while the initial focus was on airports after the events of Sept. 11, attention is now turning increasingly to seaports.

"We all know very well here on the Cape and Islands that there are millions of people who travel through our port facilities, and until recently the federal government hasn't paid much attention - this is going to be the first in a series of steps to provide resources," Mr. Forest said.

Steamship Authority managers said yesterday that they still had not been notified about the grant award.

"We're still waiting for official notification," said James Swindler, director of operations for the boat line.

Mr. Swindler said the money will be used to build covered passenger holding areas in Vineyard Haven and in Woods Hole, and also to install surveillance cameras in all the boat line terminals and fencing at the main ports. Scanning equipment will also be purchased, Mr. Swindler said.

Oak Bluffs harbor master Todd Alexander admitted yesterday that the grant money is a windfall.

"Quite honestly, I don't know what we're going to do, but you don't turn down grant money," he said. Mr. Alexander said the grant application was prepared by local members of the emergency management team, including town police officer George Fisher, civil defense director Peter Martell and fire chief Dennis Alley.

Mr. Alexander said the current plan calls for buying a new boat that can be shared by the town harbor master, the town police and fire departments and the dive team. The boat will be equipped for a variety of emergency response measures, Mr. Alexander said.

The harbor master said he has no real concerns about security in the port of Oak Bluffs. "Personally, no. But I'm not very much of an extremist," Mr. Alexander said.

Mr. Delahunt said the grant award does not mean any of the ports are threatened.

"I am not suggesting in any way, shape or form that any port in the district is a target, but I just want to continue to ensure that our have the kind of resources necessary to deter any kind of problem," the congressman said.

"God forbid, I have no particular concern, but if there ever should be an incident what would this mean in terms of the economy of the Island - this is money well spent," he added.

SSA chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin said yesterday that the boat line welcomes the grant money.

"We're delighted to hear that this will help offset the significant potential drain on resources that security concerns will take - we're spending dollars as we speak," Mr. Raskin said.

Last year the boat line won an $8,000 federal grant to help offset the cost of beefing up security, but at the time Mr. Raskin said the grant would hardly make a dent in the cost of hiring private duty state police officers to man the terminals during the long operating day for the SSA.

"We're absolutely ecstatic," Mr. Swindler said.

Other grant recipients include Massport, the Massachusetts State Police, the Massachusetts Environmental Police and the Everett police department (the town of Everett hosts a natural gas tank farm).

"It's a very different world right now, and there is increased attention focused on our ports all across the nation," concluded Mr. Forest.