Sen. Chris Dodd called on the Bush administration and the new Department of Homeland Security to increase funding for the local protection of the state’s port cities during a tour of the security operations at the New Haven and New London harbors Monday.
With states strapped for cash and facing major deficits this year, Dodd, a Democrat, said local authorities need more federal dollars to protect the ports while the nation is on high alert. Citing New London’s Pfizer headquarters, the oil tank farm at the New Haven harbor and the Yale campus, Dodd said the state’s coastline has many “targets of opportunity,” making it quite vulnerable to attacks.
But Dodd expressed serious concern with the Bush administration, saying he was stunned over its declining support for homeland security.
“Candidly, there are vulnerabilities here,” Dodd said. “At this very hour, we find less of a commitment to the homeland security of our nation. They talk a good game, but the rhetoric doesn’t meet the actions.”
In a letter to Secretary Tom Ridge, Dodd cited last month’s explosion of a gas barge off Staten Island that killed two people and injured many more. He said it points to “the need to take all possible precautions” to minimize future threats.
“Residents of Connecticut and states throughout the Northeast need to know that the administration is protecting the Northeast Heating Oil Reserve not only from accidents but also from potential terrorist attacks,” Dodd wrote in the March 14 letter.
Dodd said he has not yet received a response from Ridge. Department of Homeland Security officials were not available for comment Monday.
But Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland said Monday he was asked by the department to take a daily inventory of how much money Connecticut cities, towns and the state government are spending in the wake of heightened security. He said he was optimistic they would receive some federal funds.
At a speech last month at The George Washington University, fellow Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman voiced some of the same concerns Dodd has with the Bush administration, saying it has been “too slow, too protective of the status quo, and too stingy in improving our homeland defenses.”
Both Dodd and Lieberman said they oppose Bush’s economic stimulus plan, pointing to economic troubles domestically and heightened spending on the war in Iraq and homeland security.
“To cut taxes at the very moment your pressures are growing economically is unheard of,” Dodd said. “The amount of red ink is mounting on a daily basis. This is ‘Math 101’ and the administration is failing at it.”
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who appeared at the press conference with Dodd, said the city is in dire need of federal dollars to fund its homeland security initiatives. Both the fire chief and police chief of New Haven told Dodd and DeStefano that they need more resources to meet security demands.
New Haven’s harbor is home to Connecticut’s major oil supply, with some 35 million gallons of oil stored in tanks at the harbor and over 3 million gallons shipped off to all four corners of the state each day. In order to defend the harbor in the event of an attack, New Haven Fire Chief Michael Grant said his department would need funding from the Department of Homeland Security for a new, $5 million all-purpose fire boat to fight large fires that could erupt in the oil tank farms. Currently there are not any such boats in Connecticut, and Grant said local authorities would have to rely on agencies in New York and Boston.
He also called on the Department of Homeland Security to fund the hiring of more firemen to protect the city’s port.
“We have some concerns about providing adequate attention at the vulnerable points,” Grant said. “The more people we have, the more sustained operation we can perform.”
New Haven Police Chief Melvin H. Wearing said his department is also strapped for resources. The police department is short six officers who were called up to fight in Iraq and three more are waiting in the wings. He said he feared the increased demands on the department for the nation’s new homeland security measures would detract from other police initiatives, including neighborhood watch programs.
DeStefano, who is facing a major budget deficit, said he feels the pressure of a “whole new array of challenges.”
“There needs to be a little bit of intellectual responsibility,” he said.