AUGUSTA – Sen. Olympia J. Snowe voiced concern Saturday over a reported delay in the implementation of a Coast Guard program that would enlist fishermen to augment homeland security patrols.
Snowe also said she was “disappointed that bureaucratic and legal hurdles have led the Coast Guard to sideline the innovative ‘Coastal Beacon’ program.”
The Coastal Beacons initiative was announced in February by Adm. James M. Loy, who was the Coast Guard commandant.
“This program is aimed at making use of hundreds of fishermen along Maine’s coast to serve as the Coast Guard’s eyes and ears and better patrol the coasts,” said Snowe, who serves as ranking member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere and Fisheries, which oversees the Coast Guard.
In a statement responding to a report in the Boston Globe, Snowe said she believed a like-minded program “worked fantastically in World War II, when fishermen in Maine performed similar responsibilities without any difficulties.”
Snowe added that she hoped that “the Coast Guard will continue to work with me and the [Bush] administration to address its concerns and put this program in motion.”
The Globe reported that legal questions had delayed the start of the program and that officials say federal privacy regulations complicate collections of information that would be needed to implement it. Originally, advocates of the program envisioned that fishermen who registered to participate would be subject to background and safety checks.
Lt. Dean Jones, a Boston-based regional Coast Guard spokesman, said fishermen would be invited to utilize a “Coast Watch” program, a joint Coast Guard-FBI tip line, according to the newspaper.
“We still believe, bottom line, that we are going to get the information from the commercial lobstermen and fishermen that we were going to get,” Jones told the newspaper.
Associated Press inquiries to the Coast Guard were referred to Jones, who was reported to be away from his office for the weekend.
Maj. Gen. Joseph Tinkham II, Maine’s state adjutant general, said Saturday he was unaware of any change in plans for the Coastal Beacons program and would seek information from federal officials.
Tinkham said he understood the original program proposed for Maine had been regarded as a potential model for other jurisdictions.Snowe said her office had already contacted the Coast Guard and expected to receive a briefing Monday.
Snowe’s office said she had suggested mobilizing the fishing fleet to help monitor the Maine coast during an exchange with the Coast Guard commandant at a hearing Oct. 11, 2001, one month after the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
The senator’s office also said President Bush had praised the innovative nature of the Coastal Beacons initiative in April.