Sunday, July 24, 2005

Homeland Security Holds Up Paddle Boats

Mississippi Queen docked at Lambert's Landing in St. Paul
The paddle boats Mississippi Queen, Delta Queen and other luxury vessels won't be able to dock at Lambert's Landing in St. Paul until the Coast Guard approves a security plan for St. Paul's riverfront. City officials have worked for more than a year to meet the Coast Guard's homeland security requirements for the landing. "This has been a very complicated process, because this was never an issue before 9/11," city parks security director Eric Thompson said. "Maritime security was something we never had to deal with before." About 400 passengers of the Mississippi Queen were taken by buses Saturday from Red Wing to the Twin Cities so they could finish their planned vacation or make travel connections. Another 400 were picked up and bused to Red Wing to begin their southbound voyage to St. Louis. "Red Wing is a lovely town to visit, but of course a lot of people on this cruise are looking to get into St. Paul," said Lucette Brehm, a spokeswoman for the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. in New Orleans. The company operates about six paddlewheeler trips a year into St. Paul. Previous excursions were exempt from the new rules while security officials gave cities time to implement them. But passengers on last week's seven-day cruise received mailed notices about three days before their departure telling them the Mississippi Queen could not dock in St. Paul for security reasons. "If little places like Red Wing and La Crosse have security plans in place, what's the matter with St. Paul?" asked Juergen Weidling, a St. Paul businessman who called the St. Paul Pioneer Press to complain. A first-time passenger last week on the Mississippi Queen, he and his wife arranged for their daughter to pick them up in Red Wing at 1 a.m. Saturday rather than wait for the motorcoach convoy later that morning. "I took a trip, and the deal was from St. Louis to St. Paul," he said. The Delta Queen has trips to St. Paul scheduled Aug. 6 and Aug. 20, and the Mississippi Queen has three visits planned in October. Because the Mississippi and Delta queens are too large to fit under the Robert Street bridge, they can't dock at Harriet Island, which already meets Coast Guard approval for smaller vessels such as the Jonathan Padelford riverboat. The Coast Guard in St. Louis has jurisdiction in Minnesota and requires detailed compliance with security measures such as locked access during heightened alert periods. But if a city can persuade the Coast Guard that a landing is a public access facility, rather than a New York City-type commercial port, it faces less stringent guidelines. "We've had a difficult time to get people in the Coast Guard to understand this is basically a concrete dock in a regional park," said Thompson, of St. Paul Parks and Recreation. "The frustrating thing was learning all of the different Coast Guard regulations that are required." He said the delay was caused more by the city and Coast Guard negotiating terminology and definitions than in actual deficiencies at Lambert's Landing. He planned to send Coast Guard officials another revised security plan this week.

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