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A year after attacks, Americans question some security restrictions
By David B. Caruso, Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA — After trudging several long city blocks in 96-degree heat, Rich Pogers had seen enough of the metal security barricades, chain-link fences, and signs blaring "Restricted Access" that have ringed Independence Hall since Sept. 11.
Still ahead: a trip to the park's security trailer, a pass through a metal detector and a wait in a "secure zone" where open soda cans and water bottles are prohibited -- despite the heat.
"If you ask me, it's a little extreme. This isn't exactly what I would think of as a prime terrorist target," said Pogers, who was visiting from Seattle with his wife, Carol.
"We had planned to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, and move on. Now, it may take the whole day, if we can see it at all. It's silly," he said.
From business travelers tired of being asked to take their shoes off at airport metal detectors, to fishermen barred from angling near large dams, people across the nation are questioning whether some of the rigid security measures adopted throughout the country after the attacks are really necessary.
At Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, disagreements over the level of security around historic buildings have fueled tension between the National Parks Service and the city.
Area merchants were dismayed when the park banned vehicles and pedestrians from Chestnut Street in front of Independence Hall as part of the plan to protect the site.
Four city bus lines had run on Chestnut Street. Motorists now have to travel several blocks south to get around the closure. Shopkeepers complain they are losing business because the barricades cut the neighborhood in half.
"It has really affected us terribly," said Lisa Bass, a spokeswoman for the Bourse, a 19th-century stock exchange now filled with shops and restaurants. "It is an eyesore, and it is embarrassing and it is killing the merchants."
Acting park superintendent Dennis Reidenbach said the majority of visitors understand the reasons for the extra precautions.
"Obviously Sept. 11 changed how all of us viewed basic security needs, for any kind of site," he said. "We want there to be a quality experience. We want people to be safe, but we don't want it to detract from visitors coming here."
People have also lodged complaints about security procedures in Havre, Mont., a prairie town (pop. 9,600) around 200 miles northeast of Helena.
Shortly after the attacks, the Bureau of Reclamation erected a fence near the base of the Fresno Dam, about 10 miles from town, as part of an effort to beef up security at dams nationwide.
Area fishermen who had pulled Walleyes, trout and Northern Pike from the waters quickly dubbed the closure an overreaction, and an ineffective one at that. The flimsy orange fence didn't look strong enough to hold back a terrorist, they noted, and potential saboteurs were still free to drive across the dam in a car.
"I think the chances of doing anything in a remote area like this are pretty slim. If you blew up the dam, you'd probably do about $25 and 50 cents worth of damage. Why would they pick us?" said Don Groven, a resident of Havre and an avid fisher.
"We've basically written the bureau and told them, 'Thanks for being concerned about us, but why don't you use your common sense.' It's just something they're wasting money on."
Near Fort Dix, N.J., residents called it a necessary evil when the military closed the base to civilian vehicle traffic for the first time since World War II, forcing people in communities just north and south to drive miles out of their way.
But a year later, the base is still closed, and patience has waned.
"It's an overreaction," said Jeff Ayers, owner of South Jersey Coin & Gold Exchange in Pemberton Borough. "If it were a sensitive military area, sure, I could understand it. But the roads we are talking about, there are really nothing on them. It's a reforested area. There is really nothing there to protect."
Base officials said they have heard the complaints, and are sympathetic, but feel the security of soldiers stationed there is more important.
"For the most part, the community is very, very supportive of what we do," said Fort Dix spokesman David Moore. "They realize we are sending soldiers overseas. On the other hand, we realize that some of the businesses are suffering. We are in a tough situation."
The complaints have been echoed to a degree at airports, where security procedures now include limited terminal access, prohibitions on most sharp objects and random searches as passengers prepare to board.
But Americans seem more willing to tolerate tight security at airports, given the flaws revealed on Sept. 11.
Edwin Bayona, 47, in Philadelphia International Airport recently for a stopover on a flight home to Greensboro, N.C., said he has yet to be bothered by the security rules.
"I try not to wear jewelry or carry things that will set off the metal detectors. I didn't wear a belt today either. I wanted to make things easier for (the screeners) if I could," Bayona said.
Carroll Nelligan, 40, a frequent air traveler from Indianapolis, said that while there are days when she has found security procedures "a little annoying," her support for the tougher system is unshaken.
"Sometimes you wonder what it's all about when you see a little old lady getting pulled out of line to be searched who can't even get her shoes back on, but at the same time there is a recognition that it's O.K. because it's the right thing to do," she said. "People need to be safe when they fly."