Trade center security explored

State will examine `viable alternatives' to bridge around site

February 21, 2002|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Faced with opposition from Mayor Martin O'Malley, the state is rethinking plans to build a $1.2 million footbridge over the Inner Harbor as a way to protect the World Trade Center from possible waterborne attack.

"We'll look at any viable alternatives that both enhance the Inner Harbor and provide security for the World Trade Center," Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said.

The bridge is still a possibility, Porcari said, but not the only one. One idea he has heard is mooring the warship Constellation next to the state-owned trade center as a buffer.

Porcari's comments came after O'Malley sent him a letter dated Jan. 29 suggesting that a V-shaped bridge jutting out 100 feet from the shoreline would mar the city's "international harbor."

The mayor suggested three alternatives to thwart would-be terrorists: driving clusters of pilings in the water around the trade center, installing a fountain whose underwater apparatus could stop an approaching boat, or renaming the 30-story pentagonal tower to make it a less attractive target.

O'Malley said in an interview that he was "dead serious" about changing the name. "Between walling off the Inner Harbor and changing the name of the World Trade Center, yeah, I vote for changing the name," he said.

But Porcari said Tuesday that renaming the tower is not an option. He called the idea "reckless and irresponsible" and said, "What sense does it make to essentially cower and give in to the threat of terrorism by removing the designation of the building?"

What to do about the trade center has been a matter of debate since Sept. 11, when state officials decided the building was vulnerable - a view based on an assessment by the FBI.

The day of the terrorist attacks, a caller warned that Baltimore's trade center would be targeted. A 23-year-old Southwest Baltimore man later admitted to making the false threat, but not before creating alarm.

Shortly afterward, four gray hulking army barges were floated next to the building. They are still there. On the Pratt Street side, workers positioned concrete barriers that have since been replaced by more attractive concrete planters. The measures are designed to block an explosives-laden boat or truck.

"The prudent responsibility is to make sure we're taking reasonable precautions," Porcari said.

In December, state officials said those precautions would include a permanent footbridge. Criticism came almost immediately from several downtown leaders and O'Malley.

O'Malley, who has focused on making Baltimore safe from terrorism, does not dispute the need to safeguard a major office building. In his letter to Porcari, he said, "I want to work with you on a solution that avoids damaging the aesthetics of this international harbor while also addressing security concerns."

Porcari said a group would attempt to reach a consensus on the best option. The group includes representatives from the state, the city, Greater Baltimore Committee, the National Aquarium, Cordish Co. and Living Classrooms Foundation.

As for a new name, he said, that is "just not in the cards."

But what's in this name? If nothing else, abandoning the lofty label would mean an end to membership in the New York-based World Trade Centers Association, which counts 306 licensed "world trade centers" in 91 countries.

Membership confers more than just the use of a name, said association President Guy F. Tozzoli; it provides access to a worldwide network of 750,000 companies involved in commerce.

Tozzoli said he sees no reason to change the name. Nor does he see why the 423-foot-tall tower - some of whose tenants are in trade-related businesses and some of whose are not - would be targeted by terrorists, whatever its name.

"Terrorists don't look for trade centers," he said. "They were looking for two monster towers that represented the United States and our power."

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