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Safety at port gets pricey

By   /   Sunday, March 15th, 2009  /   Comments Off on Safety at port gets pricey

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This is definitely not a drill.

Beginning next month, workers, vendors and other regular visitors to the Port of Hueneme will be barred unless they produce a new security card mandated by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Transportation Workers Identification Credential, or the TWIC card, is being required of all persons on the Port of Hueneme by April 14, the same day that the new security rules go into effect at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Will Berg, director of marketing at Oxnard Harbor District, which oversees the Port of Hueneme, described the TWIC procedure as “mostly a background check.” But the card also requires a fee of $132.50 and must be renewed every five years.  In addition to filling out information and submitting to a background check, an applicant must have two valid forms of state identification to get TWIC-ed.

California ports such as San Diego and San Francisco have already completed their TWIC process and now require anyone on the ports to have a card in order to gain access.

Los Angeles and Long Beach are joining the program on the same day as Port of Hueneme because all three ports are in the same region for Homeland Security oversight.

TWIC represents a sweeping security change, and, so far the process at the Port of Hueneme is not exactly smooth sailing. There have been some procedural glitches that officials are struggling to get ironed out before the compliance deadline.

One of the technical issues concerns vendors and other visitors who do not visit the port on a daily or even weekly basis.

Jerry Scott, general manager of Canteen Vending in Oxnard, says it’s going to cause a major change in business if his company has to pay for his employees’ TWIC cards.

Canteen Vending operates just one vending machine there and sends employees to the port every other week to restock or repair that machine. But to buy cards for three employees would cost nearly $400, a significant cut of his profits, he says. “It’s going to cause us to reevaluate doing business there,” he said.

Scott says the company is negotiating with the port to get TWIC-carrying escorts instead of having to pay for employees to get cards.

The application process has been ongoing since May 2008, and Oxnard Harbor District executive director Anthony Taormina says that the TWIC office will soon relocate from a location in Oxnard to a space on the port itself in order to make it more accessible to people frequenting the port to apply.

But niggles with individual companies are not going to slow down operations within the port itself.

“These types of regulations are not new in our industry,” Taormina said.

Taormina says all of the port’s employees have already been certified, and essentially, the port is up to compliance. So far there are 2,400 total enrollments, with 1,400 cards already issued, leaving about 1,000 applications up in the air.

“We anticipate there will be more activations and enrollments in the coming weeks,” he said.

Employees such as Berg are also being trained to be escorts for port guests such as educational groups. Escorts will be allowed to take up to 10 visitors at a time.

Taormina does not know how many employees will be trained to be escorts, or how much the port will charge for the service. He says the fee might be around $75, as other area ports are rumored to charge up to $100.

Technical issues and griping from vendors haven’t fazed Taormina, who said he is not concerned about disruptions to operations at Port Hueneme.

“There are going to be some challenges the first day,” he said. “But everybody that basically does work around here understands the regulations.”

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