By Dustin Brown
Concerns about Astoria’s vulnerability to terrorism along its extensive waterfront — particularly at power plants and LaGuardia Airport — topped the list of fears residents cited at a town hall meeting on public safety last Thursday.
City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), the chairman of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, and the United Community Civic Association co-sponsored the event, where dozens of public officials assembled on stage at Long Island City High School to answer questions posed by an audience of about 100 people.
“New York remains terrorism’s No. 1 target,” said Rose Marie Poveromo, the civic president, at the start of the forum. “This threat has become an ever-present part of our everyday psyche.”
Astoria’s waterfront is home to a handful of power plants — including facilities owned by Keyspan, the New York Power Authority and Reliant — and the first question of the evening pondered whether they are well-protected from the threat of terrorism.
“Each group decides on its own what to do in its property,” answered state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who has sponsored legislation that would give the state the authority to require power companies to provide a certain level of security at the power plants. “Unfortunately, some of these facilities are concerned too much with saving a buck and not the amount of security they need.”
Gianaris said he expects his legislation on power plant security to be enacted “hopefully in the next few weeks,” and Deputy Inspector David Barrere, the commanding officer of the 114th Precinct, said police provide “fixed coverage” at the power plants.
The Department of Corrections’ recent decision to end its harbor patrol around Rikers Island prompted questions about security for the power plants and airport, which also received some coverage from the boats.
But Corrections Commissioner Martin Horn said “the core mission of the Department of Corrections is to run jails,” stressing that the patrol of LaGuardia and the power plants is “not the job of the Corrections Department.”
Poveromo responded with ire. “I am not happy with the answer. I would like to see the harbor patrol put back in place,” she said. “I would like the power plants to chip in.”
Warren Kroeppel, the manager of LaGuardia Airport, said the facility has its own patrol boat that does extensive runs in the water. The airport’s so-called “fuel farm,” where large quantities of fuel are stored for the planes, is also subject to a “significant amount of patrols,” he said.
Citing a fire in Brooklyn that killed four people the day before the meeting, Christine Rankin said she is disturbed about the planned closure of eight fire houses, including one in Long Island City, which was recommended by a blue ribbon panel last week. The representative of the Fire Department deferred to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“We need the companies, but it’s up the citizens to talk to the mayor and have the money appropriated to keep it open,” said Mark Ferran, the deputy chief of Division 14 of the Fire Department. “If we lose eight of them, the response time will go up.”
An audience member representing the Islamic Circle of North America, a Jamaica-based organization, brought up a misdirected consequence of terrorism: people being incorrectly pegged as terrorists because of religious or ethnic background.
“We know of many cases where good people … have been accused,” he said. “We’re concerned that the innocent are getting wrongly affected by this.”
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown replied that anti-bias units in his office and the Police Department are “very much in tune with everything that’s going on.”
“Crimes predicated on hate and bias are things we will vigorously attack,” he said.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.