SOMERS POINT — A fence intended to protect the Great Egg Harbor Bridge from terrorists has an open gate that anyone can walk through.
Thousands of commuters driving north on the Garden State Parkway can see the open gate, which is about 50 feet from the Great Egg Harbor Bridge at mile marker 28.4.
One state senator says officials have apparently known of this opening for more than a month.
“That gate has been open, on and off, since Easter,” said state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic. Van Drew is a Dennis Township resident who regularly uses the bridge to get to Trenton.
“I saw it. I looked at it,” Van Drew said. “I certainly let the chief counsel (Charles McKenna) for the governor know that” about two weeks ago, Van Drew said, adding he believed the Turnpike Authority was also aware of the open gate.
“It’s not one of our finer moments in state government, you know,” Van Drew said.
Van Drew said Christie had been responsive to his and his constituents’ concerns regarding the security fencing, and he expected something to happen soon.
McKenna, the former state director of Homeland Security who toured the bridge with Van Drew on April 5, did not respond to a request for comment. Authority spokesman Tom Feeney said in an email, “There was an issue with one of the gates. It has been secured. We’re investigating what caused it.”
The opening allowed easy access Tuesday to the otherwise unprotected underside of the bridge on Drag Island, a small parcel of land separated from the rest of Somers Point by a narrow strip of water. That’s where Casey Kaminsky, 30, of Somers Point, and Vinnie Acampora, 24, of Linwood, fished, without even a “no trespassing” sign between them and the roadway.
The Press of Atlantic City reported Tuesday that the New Jersey Turnpike Authority refused to explain key details surrounding its decision to install the fence last year, saying those details were a matter of national security.
A New York consulting firm hired by the authority, Weidlinger Associates, stated the fencing was needed to protect the bridge from a terrorist threat, in an authority-sanctioned vulnerability assessment. But the authority would provide The Press with only the assessment’s cover pages and summary.
Weidlinger was paid $412,000 for its assessments of state bridges, which deemed the Great Egg Harbor Bridge the most at-risk of 10 bridges, but not the most probable target.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security subsequently paid $7 million for Joseph Sanzari Inc., of Hackensack, Bergen County, to secure the bridges. The eight-foot-tall fence, topped with barbed wire, is scheduled to come down when the roadway is widened next year.
Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, whose district includes Somers Point, said, “Look: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This whole thing has been a solution looking for a problem. This whole thing is ridiculous. Take the damned thing down and let people fish.
“It just … it was ridiculous from the start,” Whelan added.
The open gate was well-known to a number of regular commuters, some of whom attacked it with ire in the online comments section of Tuesday’s story on the withheld documents.
Ed Beck took time-stamped photos of the open gate April 13 that he shared with The Press on Tuesday.
Beck, 52, of the South Dennis section of Dennis Township, said he saw the gate standing open for weeks. “All those security features don’t mean squat when the gate’s open, do they?”
Jeff Hutchinson, a retired Atlantic City police detective, said he sees the open gate when he drives to his job at the Carnegie Library Center of The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in the resort.
Hutchinson, 62, of Woodbine, said he once noticed a work crew parked along the southbound shoulder, perhaps using the gate. He said, “It’s just remained open, and we chuckle every time we drive by.”
As two local construction workers out fishing Tuesay morning baited their hooks, they said they knew the gate had been standing open for weeks.
But that’s not how the two fishermen, unable to work in the rain, circumvented the $250,000 anti-terrorist fence.
“We walked right across there,” Acampora said, gesturing north before throwing his line into the water. There, the stub end of the unused Beesley’s Point Bridge touches Drag Island, about 1,000 feet north of the Parkway. The former roadway is a popular destination for fishermen.
On Tuesday, there was nothing stopping any person from parking near the defunct bridge, walking about a half-mile along it, hopping over the railing at Drag Island, and strolling along the shoreline to the Great Egg Harbor Bridge.
“That’s how we got here,” Acampora said. “What a waste of money.”
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