Terrorist threats prompt unprecedented highway checkpoint

PHOTO/Courtesy Evergreen International Airlines Inc.
JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles ordered state civil defense workers to set up a temporary checkpoint along the Dalton Highway to scrutinize traffic near the 800-mile trans-Alaskan Oil Pipeline.

The unprecedented move came in response to FBI warnings of new terrorist attacks that may be carried out in the United States within days.

Though no specific threats were leveled against the pipeline, Knowles said monitoring traffic on the only road leading to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields is ’’a necessary measure.’’

The checkpoint will be in place for at least two weeks, Knowles said. It may be extended if necessary, he said.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and other state agencies were also ordered to step up security along the pipeline during this period of heightened alert.

’’People can be confident that that national asset is well protected,’’ Knowles said.

Security workers began stopping motorists at a checkpoint established south of the Yukon River bridge, about 100 miles north of Fairbanks.

The bridge structure that carries vehicles across the river also holds the pipeline and was identified by state officials as a potentially important target to guard.

’’That specific point is where the pipeline could be most vulnerable also where a large spill, if it were to happen, could cause the most damage and be the hardest to repair’’ said Knowles’ spokesman Bob King.

Seven members of the Alaska State Defense Force, a 250-member volunteer civil defense force, were activated on Monday to provide the security. They will be stationed there 24-hours a day, Knowles said.

An Alaska State Trooper will also be assigned to the checkpoint to check drivers licenses and vehicle registrations, said Greg Wilkinson, a spokesman for the troopers.

Only about 100 vehicles per day use the highway during the winter months and most are in support of oil operations on the North Slope, Wilkinson said.

The security detail will have police powers to search vehicles and detain suspicious motorists for questioning, Knowles said.

The oil pipeline has been ever-present on the minds of state disaster officials since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C.

The pipeline makes a tempting target since it is the largest structure of its kind in the world and carries 17 percent of the nation’s oil production.

There have been several threats and at least two attacks on the line during its history, but none have been the work of international terrorists.

In the most recent attack, a bullet pierced the thick steel line causing more than 285,000 gallons of oil to spill. Daniel Carson Lewis, 37 of Livengood, faces both state and federal charges in the Oct. 4 incident.

That attack and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. caused state officials to consider more government involvement in pipeline security.

Along with the checkpoint, state aviation units have also been helping Alyeska provide aerial security along the route, King said. That will continue through this recent alert, he said.

Alyeska and state officials would not elaborate on other additional security measures taken on Tuesday.

Alyeska Spokesman Tim Woolston said the company’s security force has been on heightened state of alert since the terrorist attacks.

’’Certainly, there are additional steps we are taking today,’’ Woolston said Tuesday.

10/30/2001 - 8:00pm