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Officials stop gas tanker as Boston reacts to alert

State residents are told to keep holiday plans

Massachusetts and Boston officials yesterday halted a tanker filled with flammable liquefied natural gas that was scheduled to sail into Boston Harbor today, as Governor Mitt Romney and Mayor Thomas M. Menino sought to assure residents the area was preparing for possible terrorist threats while urging them to enjoy the holiday season.

 

Both Romney and Menino said federal officials have not pointed to Boston or New England as a likely target in the decision Sunday to elevate the security warning to orange, or high. But they said the state and city have nonetheless increased security at Logan Airport, MBTA stations, and what Romney called "other major infrastructure facilities." Boston-area hospitals also will be on the lookout for disease patterns suggesting a biological or chemical attack, the governor said.

The liquefied natural gas shipment headed into Everett will be delayed at least a day, because it is seen as a possible terrorist target, officials said. Menino agreed it would be necessary to allow the ship into port when supplies run low and said city and state officials will work with the natural gas company, Distrigas, to bring the ship into port at the safest possible time.

"We're working together with the Coast Guard and the LNG company to give us some flexibility on the arrival of the tanker, if it does come into Boston," said Menino, pointing out that every delivery costs the city about $25,000 because it requires assignment of extra police officers and firefighters to protect the tanker.

Romney, who returned home briefly from a ski vacation in Utah to oversee the state's antiterrorist planning, said that "every reasonable step is being taken to protect our citizens and the Commonwealth," and he urged residents who are not public safety workers to finish their holiday shopping and spend time with their families.

"I'm planning on enjoying the holiday season, and I hope everyone else does, as well," said the governor, who flew from Utah late Sunday , but headed west again yesterday afternoon. "While any kind of war on terror is occurring, we all feel a degree of tension, but I nonetheless feel safe."

Menino echoed that sentiment at City Hall.

"First Night will go on as planned. We'll have great activities within our city," Menino said, referring to Boston's New Year's Eve celebration. "It's not time to change your lifestyle."

The federal government raised the nation's terrorism alert to orange Sunday, for the first time since May, because officials said reports from "credible sources" suggested that terrorists were planning holiday season attacks on the scale of the Sept. 11, 2001 assaults. Yesterday's public pronouncements were designed to inspire confidence, but the increased police presence in and around Boston jangled some nerves.

Laura Logan, who travels by train from her home in Medway to her job in Boston's Leather District, saw a police officer with a dog when she stepped onto the platform at South Station. The officer was scanning the crowd, but Logan said he couldn't spot everything.

"You would think that it would make you feel more secure, but it actually engendered a little bit of anxiety," Logan said. "There is a threat out there, and you don't know when it's going to happen, you don't know how to protect yourself, and you clearly can't control it."

Menino said that he has been told of no "general or specific site" that should be guarded more closely, but that the Boston Police Department would increase patrols at "certain structures" around the city that have been previously identified as potential terrorist targets. Both Menino and Romney would not discuss security preparations in detail.

The mayor hasn't been secretive about one of his most pressing security concerns: He first expressed fears about the liquefied natural gas shipments after Sept. 11. Shortly after the attacks, Menino and officials of seven nearby communities went to federal court to try to stop deliveries through Boston Harbor, arguing that heavily populated areas could be devastated by an explosion.

Menino still wants to stop all LNG shipments.

The shipments, which arrive about every 10 days during the winter, resumed on Oct. 29, 2001, under the watch of patrol gunboats, police divers, sharpshooters, bomb squads, and a helicopter. Officials yesterday did not indicate if they will take the same precautions this time, but on that trip, officials also halted flights at Logan International Airport and stopped traffic on the Tobin Bridge as the 860-foot Matthew lumbered into port. A typical tanker carries about 33 million gallons of gas.

Distrigas issued a written statement yesterday saying the company is "communicating and working in close collaboration with public safety officials to determine the best way to ensure the safety and security of our operation so we can deliver critical energy supplies to our customers in New England."

Romney said he and Menino agreed to delay the shipment of liquefied natural gas. "We have flexibility in the schedule on its arrival in the harbor," Romney said. "We plan to take advantage of that flexibility."

Diane Hernandez, 35, a Merrimack, N.H., resident who grew up in Chelsea, said she watched the tanker arrive last week when she and her mother were walking on the Boston waterfront.

"There were cops everywhere. They blocked off the bridge, and there were at least eight Coast Guard boats out there," Hernandez said. "They are definitely taking it very seriously. They can't stop everything, but they're doing the best they can."

Romney and Menino said certain public safety workers would be working overtime until the alert is over, but that there should not be many missed vacations. Romney said the antiterrorist preparations would cost millions of dollars, but the final tally will depend on how long the alert lasts. Between March 17 and April 17, when the war in Iraq prompted an orange alert, the state spent about $200,000 a week, mostly on overtime for State Police. But the state deployed the National Guard during that alert, and Romney said he doesn't anticipate taking that step this time.

The governor also said the federal government has about $125 million to send to states to help defray costs.

Romney urged preparation and said that people should have a plan in place to contact family.

Douglas Belkin of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Terror alert levels
 R E D  |  Severe
Severe risk of attacks
 O R A N G E  |  High
High risk of attacks
 Y E L L O W  |  Elevated
Significant risk of attacks
 B L U E  |  Guarded
General risk of attacks
 G R E E N  |  Low
Low risk of attacks

Source: Dept. of Homeland Security
On the web
Department of Homeland Security
 www.dhs.gov

Terrorism preparedness guide
 www.ready.gov
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