A tragic anniversary | CraigDailyPress.com

A tragic anniversary

Security issues, perceived threats and perceptions linger from Sept. 11, 2001

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the ripple of country’s newfound focus on national security has spread even to Northwest Colorado.

The tragic events of that day have altered in small or large ways how residents conduct their day-to-day lives, either in traveling, in public areas or at home.

Earlier this week, county commissioners approved a regional plan outlining how officials should respond in the event of a terrorist attack or bombardment from weapons of mass destruction.

“Since Sept. 11, we’ve spent a lot of time on planning,” said Clyde Anderson, Moffat County’s emergency manager. “We’ve planned for bio terrorism, anthrax, and mass immunizations.”

According to the emergency document, Moffat County’s top three areas identified by their levels of vulnerability include, in descending order, the Craig Station power plant, the Public Safety Center and, collectively, the county courthouse and city halls of Craig and Dinosaur.

To top that off, the three sites identified as most vulnerable to a potential terrorist attack within 10 Colorado counties reside within a mere 20-mile radius of Craig, Anderson said.

Those sites include the Craig Station power plant the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden and the Hayden Station power plant.

The perceived threat

“It’s hardly something you can miss coming into Craig,” Anderson said of the three cooling towers at the Craig Station south of town. “Based on known threats, we know terrorists are interested in knocking off power plants.”

But those kinds of potential threats aren’t taken lightly by Colorado’s largest coal-fired plant. Almost immediately following the 2001 attacks, the Craig Station, which provides power for more than 1 million customers in several western states, began seeking additional security measures.

“You could drive right up and walk in the plant before,” said Tri-State Generation and Transmission spokesman Jim Van Someren, about protocol prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Tri-State owns a portion of the operations at the Craig Station.

Today, Capt. Fred Goodman and his 16 security officers make sure no one gets in without an authorized badge or approval from within.

“The main thing is they have to show proof that they’re supposed to be here and they have to reason for coming in,” said Goodman. “Nobody gets in without a reason.”

Security workers match the roughly 1,8000 vehicles that pass through Craig Station’s two gates each day with employee names in a thick logbook. Since the station hired employees from the Chief Security company in late 2001, officers have confiscated 200 contraband items from visitors, including guns, bows and arrows, knives and open containers of alcohol.

Though he declined to relay the costs of the Station’s new security force, Van Someren said it was “appropriate to take those steps.”

“Prior to (Sept. 11, 2001) we’ve never had a serious incident,” he said. “Since then, we’ve been made more aware that we could be potentially vulnerable. It’s certainly something that, because of the way the world is going, it’s well worth investing in.”

Funding the local defense

One thing is for certain under the current administration’s “war on terrorism,” led by of President Bush: Funding isn’t scarce for beefing up security for the many tiers of the nation’s government.

According to Anderson, the county emergency department has benefited almost $400,000 in grants from the Department of Homeland Security to purchase equipment to combat hazardous materials. Another $273,000 is expected to roll in with some of those funds designated for video surveillance at the Moffat County courthouse.

Because Moffat County already had an established Haz Mat team in place prior to the 2001 terrorist attacks, the agency has contracted its emergency management services out to Rio Blanco and Routt counties. Having an intact emergency program helped concentrate dollars into the Moffat County program that would have been spread out among the three counties, Anderson said.

While money for video cameras would be welcome for the Moffat County courthouse, commissioners are concerned about security costs for other devices such as metal detectors. In the long term, personnel salaries probably wouldn’t be covered with grant money, they said.

“Do we ramp up security systems for something that might happen?” posed Commissioner Darryl Steele.

“Even if we put up a metal detector with minimal cost to the county,” said Commissioner Les Hampton, “we have to have some people here to run it. It’s not just a single investment, it may take up to four people to staff.”

The conversation over whether to arm the courthouse with metal detectors has been circulating for years, said Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos.

“This is the only courthouse in the 14th Judicial District that doesn’t have security,” said Raftopoulos of conversations with the chief judge of the 14th Judicial District, Michael O’Hara. “There have been concerns that the costs may be high, but the cost of a life is important.”

Hitting home

Apart from the threat of a terrorist attack on the county building, other concerns revolve around the potential threat of workplace violence.

According to a recent law, weapons may be carried openly in public buildings while those carrying a concealed weapon must have a permit.

“It’s not what has happened,” said Anderson of the courthouse’s clean record to date of violent outbreaks. “It’s what is the potential to have something happen. There’s a lot of unhappy people that come down here to pay taxes, go to court…and people know there’s no deputies down here.”

In the last couple years, county officials have changed building access from a standard key and lock system to requiring employees punch in with a code. Doors are now locked when the building closes for the night.

Craig Public Works Director, Bill Earley, is under a different funding dilemma because of increased security requirements from the 2001 terrorist attacks. He only wishes more government dollars would help with some of the water improvements that are soon to be required by law.

Earley declined to reveal some the “weaker areas” in protecting the water system primarily because he didn’t want to breach its security. Water treated by the Craig department reaches 3,200 taps or about 10,000 customers, he said.

“Because of (Sept. 11, 2001,) we have prioritized in a plan where we’re vulnerable,” he said.

A similar plan and increased security may soon have to be added to the city’s sewer system.

Earley was uncertain, like others, when asked what the actual threat might be to his department.

“I don’t know if anybody knows the answer to that,” he said. “There’s a lot of opinions out there.”

Word on the street

Two years after the tragedy that she watched unfold on television “for days,” Craig resident Mickey Hall still gets tears in her eyes when she talks about the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Her reaction to the event is summed up in the one word she repeated while trying to compose herself.

“Senseless,” she said.

But living in Moffat County, Hall said she doesn’t fear a terrorist attack. In fact, she doesn’t see what terrorists would gain by plotting in the remote corner of Colorado.

“It wouldn’t be a very big statement,” she said.

Hall said she’s supportive of the Bush administration’s efforts to wage war against terrorism, including the war in Iraq. And while she’s not familiar with the color-coded threat system devised by the Department of Homeland Security, she said the country is a safer place under President Bush. The relative safety the country has seen since Sept. 11 convinces her of that.

Although the war on terrorism has increased her awareness of foreign issues, Hall said she doesn’t know how a lasting peace can be established in the Middle East.

Hall said she wants the foreign fighting to remain foreign and she hopes terrorists abroad will “just leave us alone.”

City Market worker Rhonda Stehle doesn’t necessarily feel safe from terrorism in Craig.

“I know there’s chemical stuff and nuclear stuff around here,” she said.

But Stehle countered, “It may be safer here than Denver.”

Stehle was sleeping off a graveyard shift when planes rammed into the two World Trade Center towers in New York City. She awoke to hear the breaking news of a plane hitting the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Later that day, the distressing news was all she heard among co-workers and customers in the store.

Two years ago today, Gilbert Jaramillo was getting ready for work when he heard of the tragic occurrences in New York. Later at work he learned of the attack at the Pentagon and then it became personal.

“I have a brother who worked in the Pentagon,” he said. “So it was pretty hectic calling family until I found out he was OK.”

Two years later, the anniversary had him thinking about that day.

“I’ve been thinking about it all week,” he said. The possibility of another attack is still out there.”

Jaramillo had checked the alert level Wednesday morning, noticing it was at yellow. It is a part of a heightened awareness that 9/11 started for Jaramillo.

“I pay a lot more attention to world events and the news now,” he said. “It is important to know what is going on everywhere.”

As far as living in Moffat County Jaramillo said he felt relatively safe.

One thing Jaramillo wishes would have been different was the way the Bush administration would have handled things.

“They should have finished the job on Osama before moving onto other things,” he said. “The immediate threat should have been taken care of before moving on.”

The cost of the war in Iraq is another aspect that Jaramillo doesn’t like.

“We’ve spent something like $160 billion,” he said. “Don’t you think with a $160 billion bounty Osama would have been turned in.”

Justin Ellgen was walking through the hallway just starting his sophomore year at Moffat County High School when he heard about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center Towers. Two years later, he remembers the shock from that moment but it has worn off.

“It is still a sad and disheartening thing,” he said. “But the shock has worn off.”

Not someone who flies much, Ellgen said he doesn’t see much threat to him but he said he believes there is more of a realistic chance that an attack can happen.

“It’s sad that we didn’t have high enough security beforehand,” he said. “I think the current administration has done a good job at heightening security.”

Ellgen said that being aware of what is going on in other countries is more important for him since the incidents of September 11, 2001.

“It makes you wonder with war in Iraq what else is going on,” he said. “So I watch things more.”

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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