Alperen's argument against The Fence

Naval Postgraduate School
Center for Homeland Defense and Security
CHDS 0403

This paper was originally prepared for:


September 23, 2005
Martin J. Alperen
12107 Hansen Bay
St. John, VI 00830-9535
(831) 588-5612

Candidate for Master of Arts, Homeland Security, expected March 2006.
Naval Postgraduate School, Center For Homeland Defense and Security
Monterey, CA 93943.

My work is an academic research effort conducted as a graduate student, not an official project conducted in my capacity as a USVI Government employee. Therefore, this is not an official document, and its conclusions are my own, not those of the US or USVI Governments.

Martin Alperen

INTRODUCTION. On July 1, 2004, and pursuant to the Maritime Security Act, the VI Government Port Authority installed a chain link and barbed wire fence approximately 1/3rd of the way out the passenger ferry dock on St. John preventing people from walking from the land on to the ferry boats that take them to and from St. Thomas. (Locals refer to it as “The Fence” and it spawned the bumper sticker, “St. John – A Gated Community.”) Before The Fence, free access to the boats and the ability to sit on the dock of the bay had been the way here for generations.

Given the geography of the Virgin Islands and the current state of both federal and local law enforcement, any effort towards non-suspicion based, non-pinpoint inspection is useless. The Fence is completely ineffective, wasteful of resources and a public relations disaster. It should be removed.

BACKGROUND.  Since The Fence was installed, ferryboat tickets are taken at The Fence gate instead of further down the dock at the actual boats. New Homeland “Security Guards” have new jobs but do not do anything except sometimes open and close the gate. The guards do not search anyone or anything. They do not look in bags, boxes or containers. They do, however, enforce the ferry boats’ regulations against eating on board.

Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations establishes their duties. At the lowest alert level, called MARSEC 1, they are supposed to: ‘screen persons, baggage, personal effects and check identification or examine passenger tickets.’ (33 CFR 105.255(e)). They do not. There is absolutely no meaningful scrutiny.


The Fence is ineffective for many reasons. The 85-degree Caribbean water is less than 2 feet deep at this point and one only has to walk through warm, clean, knee-deep water and climb back on the pier on the other side of the fence. Many people here wear only shorts and flip-flops and have sand on their feet so one wouldn’t even look out of place after having done this.

Because The Fence was not well designed or implemented, another way around it is to simply climb out the unscreened window in the seating area and walk along the 2-foot wide ledge to the other side of the fence and then back on the pier. Or, one could simply purchase a ticket ($3.00 or $7.00 depending on destination).

Driving and taking the car ferry between St. Thomas and St. John can avoid The Fence. Several hundred vehicles every day come and go a block away at the car ferry dock without any inspection. No security is mandated at the car ferry because both the car ferry and the car ferry dock are exempt from the statute. They are not a “Passenger vessel certificated to carry more than 150 passengers,” (33 CFR 104.105(a)(6)) and the dock is not a “Facility that receives vessels certificated to carry more than 150 passengers…” (33 CFR 105.105(a)(2)). This is not the fault of the VI Port Authority who is valiantly trying to comply with the regulations. It is the fault of one-size-fits-all regulations that do not make sense in this situation.  Private boats (pleasure craft) are also uninspected. Perhaps one thousand private boats are anchored or moored around St. John on any given day and hundreds come and go daily, uninspected.

Unofficial estimates are that of the legitimate, non-contraband, non-smuggling traffic, 70% of the people coming to St. John arrive by passenger ferry from St. Thomas. This includes the tourists and their baggage. Another 25% come with the cars and trucks on the uninspected car ferries and the remaining 5% on the also uninspected private boats.  Approximately 95% of the goods and merchandise comes to St. John on the uninspected car ferries with the remaining 5% coming on the uninspected private boats. The end result is that 70% of the legitimate people must pass through a meaningless inspection process while 100% of the legitimate goods and merchandise and the remaining 30% of legitimate people are uninspected. Given these numbers, spending government money on The Fence is useless because criminals and terrorists will utilize one of the unlimited numbers of uninspected or illegitimate entry points.

BAD PUBLIC RELATIONS. Equally as important as its ineffectiveness is that The Fence and potato chip confiscating security guards alienate people. Citizens see this and believe their tax dollars are being wasted. They lose confidence. Whether the mere perception of security is a valid measure of success (as opposed to actual security) is an open question, but this fence does not even provide the mere perception of security.

THE REALITY OF THE SITUATION. Passenger ferries are the island equivalent of a cross-town bus and holding them to the mandated level of security is purely cosmetic and a waste of resources. Every day thousands of residents, day workers (many of them known illegal aliens), tourists, business owners, shop keepers, students of all ages, etc., come and go from the larger island of St. Thomas to St. John as if they were taking a city bus. It is a 20 or 45 minute ride depending on which boat is taken. As a nation we have not implemented security inspections on inter-city busses and subways. And there remain the uninspected car ferries and private boats.

If the purpose of the inspections is to prevent a terrorist from commandeering or blowing up a passenger ferry then they need to do a better job at inspecting. If the purpose of the inspections is to prevent a terrorist from smuggling themselves and or weapons on to the island, then the cursory 70% of the passenger-only inspections are useless.

Meaningful security is logical. However, anything approaching meaningful security on the level of inspecting baggage, parcels and identification, the requirements of MARSEC1, is only possible here if the car ferries are inspected too. If car ferries were included in inspections, then approximately 95% of people and approximately 95% of goods arriving on St. John would be inspected. Anything or anyone else would enter with the thousand or so boats coming and going to the thousand or so beaches, coves, bays, harbors, hurricane holes, etc.

Searching the car ferry is plainly not practical because it would add hours to a 45 minute trip and would stifle inter-island commerce. It would be the equivalent of inspecting cars and trucks traveling between any two stateside towns or cities. Because St. John is an island, everything is brought here from St. Thomas by a truck on the car ferry or a container on a truck on the car ferry. St. John businesses would be crippled by this sort of inspection. (The VI could, at least in theory, implement the same sort of preferred shipper pre-approved security lists utilized by the USCG.)

CONSEQUENCES. If implemented, meaningful inspection of the passenger ferries and meaningful inspection of the car ferries, would logically steer illegal activity to the remaining 5% of private boats discussed above, or to uncounted criminals and terrorists. The thousand or so beaches, coves, bays, harbors, hurricane holes, etc., are already used by drug, gun and people smugglers with impunity. At least we would be fairly certain the bad guys would come in the uninspected route and know where the weak link is. Only a drastically increased federal border protection presence combined with a drastically improved local police department can stop this and neither of these is happening.

ALTERNATIVES. The solution is much easier to describe than to implement. It requires a dramatically increased federal border patrol presence (highly mobile teams on each island with land, near shore and far shore marine and helicopter and surveillance capability) combined with timely intelligence and dramatically improved local law enforcement. (The New VIPD; Caring, involved and highly motivated officers who have an excellent rapport with all segments of the community and the New VIPD Terrorism Fusion Center with its own intelligence officers with several foreign language capabilities representing the many groups who live here…that works closely with all the federal agencies and organized local groups and regularly relays information about real time alien, potential terrorist, border and transportation security to the CBP Task Force Teams who, with the willing and highly motivated assistance of The New VIPD, intercept and arrest).

WAIVER. The VI Government should save the money spent on maintaining The Fence and the security personnel by utilizing the waiver provision in the statute. “Any facility owner or operator may apply for a waiver of any requirement … that the facility owner or operator considers unnecessary in light of the nature or operating conditions of the facility…” 33 CFR 105.130. A similar provision is in 33 CFR 104.130. St. John clearly meets the “unnecessary in light of the nature or operating conditions” requirement.

“A request for a waiver must be submitted in writing with justification to the Commandant … Washington, DC … The Commandant …may grant [it] only if the waiver will not reduce the overall security of the facility, its employees, visiting vessels, or ports”

CONCLUSION. Given the futility of passenger ferry inspection alone, the impracticality of adding car ferry inspection and the complete lack of scrutiny of the remaining 5%, it is wasteful and impractical to even conduct the passenger ferry inspections and to have The Fence. The VI Government should apply for the waiver, remove The Fence and put the Security Guard money to other use.

Decision:  Recommendation that the Virgin Islands Port Authority investigate the effectiveness of security personnel and fences at Red Hook, St. Thomas and Cruz Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands, and to take action within six months to either improve security or eliminate ineffective spending.
Yes __________  No __________  Refer to ________

Tuff people, teriffic event

The ninth annual 8 Tuff Miles, run across the spine of St. John Saturday, drew a record 617 registrants.  Race organizer Peter Alter told several hundred people at the afternoon's awards ceremony, there were as many men runners as there were women (243 each), and more women walkers (68) than men walkers (35).  (That means 571 completed the course.)

Tuffmilesawards_2 <<<< Folks checking out finishers' times.

The race was won for the second year by a Caneel Bay Resort employee, Jeremy Zuber, 24.  His time for the 8.3 mile course was 50 minutes and 2 seconds.  Cheryl Jamerino, 30, of St. Thomas led the women, with a first place time of 1 hour 3 minutes 51 seconds.  She's a nurse at the Roy L. Schneider Hospital.

Here is some audio from the awards ceremony. 

  • Peter Alter awarding the annual prize for "Best Watering Station" and St. Thomas disc jockey Buzz reviewing the number of entrants.  Right click to download
  • Music prior to the ceremony at the children's playground across from Mongoose Junction. Right click to download
  • (If you like the audio, send me an e-mail for encouragement:

By the way, Peter Alter's campaign to encourage runners on St. John has paid off again.  He reported that half a dozen runners from St. John have qualified to participate in the 26-mile Boston Marathon, April 18.(Comparably, a city the size of Washington, DC would send nearly a thousand.)

St. John's Sussman in New York Times

Great Cruz Bay's S. Donald Sussman was among those quoted in a New York Times story about the Virgin Islands' tax break designed to encourage new businesses to locate in the islands and hire employees. The Times reports federal agents have been questioning workers and neighbors about when the last time the owners were in residence. The newspaper reported the current IRS inquiry into the EDC program has allowed some island residents to "dodge an estimated $400 million in federal income taxes."

Sussman, a successful hedge fund manager, has 10 people helping him manage money in an office on St. Thomas.

Continue reading "St. John's Sussman in New York Times" »

Cleanup continues after Jeanne's deluge

The edge of Tropical Storm Jeanne passed to the south Tuesday night and Wednesday. The government is hoping to have schools reopen Monday. However, at least a few classrooms probably will still be closed while workers shovel mud and debris resulting from the torrents which rained down on the islands at mid-week. Department of Public Works crews have been attending to roads and downed trees.

The Commissioner of Tourism issued a statement saying the islands "remain open for business and continues to welcome visitors." Cleanup efforts are expected complete by the weekend, said Pamela Richards. All airports, seaports and govern ment offices are open, she said.

Continue reading "Cleanup continues after Jeanne's deluge" »

Contractors accused of cheating

A VI Senator alleged St. John's major contractors are not paying taxes.

During a hearing this week on proposals to strengthen the building code, Sen. Louis P. Hill challenged Brent E. Blyden, permits director at the Planning and Natural Resources Department, to have his inspectors check pay stubs at construction sites. Blyden responded, "That's out of our jurisdiction," the St. John Source reported.

The charge came during a meeting of the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee. On the agenda was a proposal for the VIs to adopt the International Building Code, already used by 44 states and the U.S. Defense Department. The update would be the first since Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. Island engineers said that they did not think the new code would "substantially" increase construction costs.

The growth in construction is, of course, noticeable to any resident. But during the hearing, director Blyden revealed the value of building permits issued in 2000 was $120 million. This year, he said, it will be $250 million.

Park moves on goat and sheep plan

"They keep breeding," said Rafe Boulon, the chief of resource management at the VI National Park and so, after a year-long public review process, it's time to begin thinning the herds of goat and sheep on parkland. The animals cause environmental damage by eating vegetation that helps protect against erosion. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will help in trapping and shooting animals. If residents would like to save a goat or sheep that's caught in the Park, they can contact the Park at 340 693-8950, ext. 240 to request adoption. Boulon told the St. John Source there are new herds of animals at Lind Point and along the North Shore, causing new damage to previously unhurt areas. The details of the park's plan are on the Web site of the Friends of the National Park at

Coral Bay boaters fight eviction

coralbayvoyagesThe Planning and Natural Resources Department has told owners of about four dozen boats in Johnson Bay they must move out. The government says the Bay is not a legitimate mooring area, despite its being used as such for more than 10 years. Some boaters say they, in fact, do have mooring permits issued by DPNR. "How you can have a mistake going on for 10 years is amazing," said Morgan MacDonald, a naval architect who has moored his boat in Johnson Bay for almost two years. The department expects to set a final date for boaters to leave after one more meeting with owners of the crafts, set for Monday, Sept. 20, in the Emmaus Moravian Church fellowship hall. MacDonald has headed up boaters' efforts to form the Coral Bay Association for Marine Planning but says, "DPNR has refused to engage in any discussion with the boaters."

Barshinger alone at Senators' forum

The Coral Bay Community Council convened a meeting to hear the four candidates for the VI's At Large senate seat, but only one attended: St. John resident, and frequent candidate, Craig Barshinger. Coral Bay resident Kathy Damon was one of about 50 people who attended the session at the John's Folly Learning Center, telling the St John Source, "That's very rude. If they can't keep their promises." The other candidates pleaded conflicting events on St. Croix, and one said he had a family emergency. Barshinger said protecting Coral Harbor from silt runoff is a critical issue for the island. He suggested the federal government should assist in the costs of paving roads around the Harbor. Both candidates for the VI's delegate to Congress attended the forum. Incumbent Donna Christensen defended her backing of a bill to require Congress to name a Chief Financial Officer for the islands. Her opponent, Basil Ottley Jr., opposed the idea, saying, "We don't know the kind of person we're going to get."

EDC group has a plan

logoviedc A trade group representing participants in the government's Economic Development Commission has met with Department of the Interior officials in Washington to clarify rules for EDC beneficiaries. Since an official of the IRS warned companies they had to meet a residency requirement to qualify for generous tax benefits for EDC companies, some firms have considered closing. "That's an important loss of revenue to the territory," said Benjamin Rivera Jr., executive director of the USVI Economic Alliance. He told the St. John Source, attorneys for some EDC companies have recommended they halt operations for fear the currently-unstated residency requirements may eventually be a problem. Richards said EDC companies contribute as much as $75 million a year to the territory, in addition to donations to local charities of another $25 million. The Alliance official said, "We were very well received and believe that Interior heard our message. (We now) will state our case to the Treasury Department."

Coral Bay Labor Day Parade


The parade, scheduled for 11:00, started at noon, and stretched for all of 15 minutes. Led by the Carolina Corral, it also included, in order, the Virgin Islands Police and Fire Departments, Miss St John (Tonya Powell) and St. John Jr. Miss 2004; St. John Prince and Princess 2004; the Middle Age Majorettes; the Rising Stars Pan Band; the Animal Care Center of St. John; and St. John Rescue. A good time was had by all! This was followed by a food fair and "tramp" at the Coral Bay ball field, and a flashlight walk after dark. (Courtesy Brad Felmly, Starlit Escape.)

St. John's Barshinger to run again

barshingerSt. John's Craig Barshinger has signed up to make another run at the At-Large seat in the VI Senate. He's been trying in each election since 1996, collecting 40 percent of the vote in 2002, but still losing to incumbent Sen. Almando Liburd. Barshinger is one of 51 people who filed to compete for the 15 seats which are up for election on Nov. 2. All 15 incumbents are running for reelection and have presented their petitions. A primary election will be held Sept. 11. Thirty candidates are running for 7 seats from St. Croix, 16 on St. Thomas for 7 spots, and five people will contest the At Large seat. VI delegate to Congress Donna Christensen is running for her fifth term but has opposition from three candidates.

Island council considers local government

A Mayor-Council form of managing St. John has been part of discussions being held by an Island Council Committee formed with the encouragement of Gov. Charles Turnbull. The Committee sponsored by the St. John Community Foundation met at Fish Trap restaurant to proceed with work on a proposal for the Governor. Craig Barshinger suggested locals could vote for members of an island council, despite concern voiced by one woman who worried people from St. Thomas and St. Croix would also participate in the balloting and overwhelm St. John citizens' interests, the St. John Source reported. Carol DeSenne, executive director of the Foundation, said the committee plans town meetings and will distribute brochures to involve more people in the discussion and planning.

Assaults argue for Coral Bay police station

policestsationA daylight home-invasion robbery and an armed robbery of tourists at Concordia has gotten the attention of St. John administrator Julien Harley. "We musty have a sense of urgency" about getting a police presence on the east end of the island, he told the Virgin Islands Daily News. He said the assaults threaten the way of life on St. John, "and we can't have that." Senator At Large Almando Liburd said he will lend his effort to helping the police commissioner receive $250,000 already appropriated by the Senate for a police facility in Coral Bay. "It's definitely needed," he said.

Continue reading "Assaults argue for Coral Bay police station" »

Morgan's Mango off the market

The big news is that Morgan's Mango MAY have been sold. We're trying to find out. But the home of fantastic Argentine and Cuban-inspired food, offered for sale almost two years, has been removed from the Multiple Listing Service. Morgan's was priced at $1.4 million.

The number of houses offered for sale by the Multiple Listing Service continues to shrink, falling to 34 by the weekend. Bargain hunters apparently moved quickly, snapping up a $450,000 listing at Glucksberg a week after it appeared on the MLS. Also leaving the list was a 3-bedroom/3-bath three-year-old Carolina residence, listed at $1.2 million. Added to the list this week, also in Carolina, a $1.55 million 4-bedroom/5-bath with pool property.

There's an update to last week's report on the listing of Dr. Cool Inc., the island air conditioning installation and maintenance specialist. The price, originally listed at $225,000, has been raised to $250,000. The owner of the business e-mailed News of St. John and said he does not plan to leave the island. 

The inventory of land for sale increased by 3 to 118 parcels. Condo listings, steady at 8. Timeshare unit listings up 2 to 99.

Holes seen in defense plan for Cruz Bay

fence"What's the point?" seemed to be the consensus about the security fencing installed at the Cruz Bay ferry dock. At a town meeting hosted, Iris Kern, a resident, said, "The gates are farcical. Seven feet over (down the beach), you can land a boat." She made it clear that the Homeland Security-financed fencing didn't make her feel more secure, the St. John Source reported.. While Alfredo Alejo, another resident, pointed out anyone can drive onto the barges to come across from St. Thomas. Del. Donna Christensen, who sponsored the meeting, agreed when Alejo said, "You can get a lot more stuff in the trunk of a car than a knapsack." St. John Administrator Julien Harley also attended the session at the Legislature Building. He said the Port Authority is working on a longer-term security plan that may make dock security more reasonable and effective.

Continue reading "Holes seen in defense plan for Cruz Bay " »

Road work at Enighed

enighed2The road around the Enighed Pond commercial port project is being repaved and repaired. Completion of the work on Fish Fry Road is expected in November. The project also includes a new drainage system, a new sidewalk, and new blacktop, according to the St. John Tradewinds. The construction extends 1,300 feet, from