Growing TWIC program needs Unalaska base

February 12, 2009 at 9:19AM AKST

SHIRLEY MARQUARDT

The newest federal program to hit Unalaska/Dutch Harbor is the Transportation Workers Identification Card or TWIC program, and it has very serious implications for the way that the No. 1 fishing port in the U.S. will be able to function in the future.

After 9/11 it was decided there were inherent risks in U.S. ports of entry for possible terrorist attacks or shipments of weapons of mass destruction like “dirty bombs” or biological agents. So, in order to keep some kind of tabs on who has access to our ports and harbors TWIC was born and is now a squalling, frustrating young program.

Right off the bat it was obvious that the State of Alaska would present its own challenges to the process to get the card and Unalaska would really be problematic. After several local businesses and labor pools contacted me with their concerns, I gathered the available information on the program, and what I found was disheartening to say the least.

You first need to enroll for the card, which takes about 15 minutes. Then in six weeks you need to return to the same enrollment center and have your card activated, which takes about 15 minutes. Therefore, if you live and work in Unalaska and need a card to be allowed on a waterfront facility, you would need to fly to Anchorage twice for a 30-minute process to comply and get the card. I politely said “baloney.”

When I first told Sen. Stevens, Sen. Murkowski, Congressman Young and the U.S. Coast Guard about the significant, negative financial and operational burden that the lack of an enrollment center here in Unalaska would cause, I received the news that it seemed that nothing could really be done. The contract had been signed with Lockheed Martin and the contractor did not see a reason to have a center in the Port of Dutch Harbor.

I had asked for help to encourage a larger view of the TWIC program in Unalaska and for a center to be set up for enrollment and activation here on a regular basis, as we have a high turnover of employees in our transportation pool depending on the season.

My requests got some people talking and generated some rather industrious communication, but after several months of agreement of the problem there was not much action. It was when I started working through Brett Farrell at the Marine Exchange in Juneau that some positive things started happening. Brett took on the issue like a bulldog with a bone and just would not give up. He was working with Lockheed Martin on the same issue for other Alaskan ports and made Unalaska/Dutch Harbor a priority.

Brett was the driving force that got Unalaska the June enrollment mobile center, and then the January return for activation. He deserves a huge “Thank You” from anyone who got a card during this time. More than 500 people here in Unalaska saved approximately $2,500 each by those two visits and that is not petty cash.

Because the penalty for not having a TWIC on a marine facility is $1,500 the very first time, the City of Unalaska has applied for a grant that would provide the special equipment and training necessary to provide the program here in Unalaska year round, and we have the generous support of the ILWU and Pacific Stevedoring to provide two employees each to be trained in the process. The City of Unalaska will provide the other two employees needed for the training as well as the office space at City Hall.

If we are successful, we will have the ability to provide the card here, without the high cost of traveling to Anchorage. Since we are talking about the federal government and a grant process, nothing is bound to happen quickly and because of that I have requested a return of the mobile center in February or March. Librarian Dan Masoni was a tremendous help in finding a place for the mobile center and picking up and delivering hundreds of pounds of equipment each time the center was open.

We will continue to keep focused on this issue and work toward the best solution possible, and with a powerhouse like Brett Farrell and the Marine Exchange on our side, I am convinced we will make it happen. As usual, any questions, ideas, concerns or comments are always welcome at mayor@ci.unalaska.ak.us.

Shirley Marquardt is mayor of Unalaska. She can be reached at mayor@ci.unalaska.ak.us or 581-1251