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Gray working with TSA to resolve Massena Airport’s security crisis

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MASSENA - Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray sent a letter to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) dated Aug. 30 seeking to have the Massena Airport exempted from security requirements that mandate a police presence at the airport for incoming and outgoing flights.

“The town of Massena, which owns and operates the Massena International Airport, continues to struggle with the costs of law enforcement officer’s presence at the airport. That presence is provided by the Massena Village Police Department (MVPD) and the cost is only partially covered by the money the town used to receive from the Transportation Safety Administration,” he wrote, adding that the agency’s decision to cut funding for airport security has complicated its relationship with the village on this matter.

“The town’s contract with the MVPD is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2013. The village of Massena has little interest in continuing to provide law enforcement at the airport, as it is currently losing money on the contract.”

Mr. Gray said that the town has asked the agency several times over the years to be allowed to switch to a “approved response time” security detail, without ever receiving an answer back from the TSA.

“Repeatedly the reply has been that TSA was evaluating the situation and that a decision would be forthcoming ‘soon,’” he wrote. “Soon has yet to arrive.”

Mr. Gray said that he was aware of multiple airports, both in New York state and across New England, where approved response time security details are in place.

“Our research indicates that these airports are very well served by this status and that public safety has not been compromised by it,” he wrote. “TSA has a significant presence at the Massena Airport. All of your staff are highly trained professionals who are capable of calling local law enforcement agencies should the need arise.”

Mr. Gray noted that with border patrol, state police and village police, as well as occasionally sheriff’s deputies in Massena, a quick response to the airport would essentially be guaranteed.

“In short, the Massena Town Council sees no need for law enforcement officer presence every time a plane is boarded at our airport. Again, we know this is how business is conducted at other rural airports with TSA approval, and we believe our airport should receive similar treatment.”

Given the Sept. 30 deadline given to the town by the village (see related story), Mr. Gray requested permission to implement the new security protocols effective Oct. 1.

“We trust that TSA will assist us and approve such a transition. Please advise the town of any steps we need to take to prepare for this transition.”

Mr. Gray has since received a letter back from the TSA and while the TSA did not initially approve a response time plan, Federal Security Director John P. McCaffrey said they would be willing to consider such a plan, if the town was able to provide them with an plan detailing how the town would still comply with security mandates.

“The exchange I had with the TSA was very positive,” Mr. Gray said. “They are willing to work with us to solve this problem.”

In his response, Mr. McCaffrey wrote, “The TSA-SYR is aware that the town of Massena was not covered for this fiscal year (2013) by the LEO Reimbursable Program and that in these times of fiscal constraints that the town of Massena is looking to find cost savings where it can.”

He continued, “TSA-SYR is committed to providing for world class security in all economic climates. To accomplish this goal we will work together with you to find a viable solution.”

Mr. McCaffrey suggested he town that they apply for funding for the 2014 fiscal year, noting their application would likely be approved, noting that if it were payments would be made retroactive to Oct. 1, 2013.

And while Mr. McCaffrey said he would be willing to work with the town to find a solution, he stressed that the town cannot simply stop providing a security detail at airport on Oct. 1.

“It is important to note that the town of Massena cannot unilaterally stop providing LEO coverage on-site at MSS on Oct/ 1, 2013, without exposing itself to enforcement actions by the TSA. It is my hope that the TSA-SYR and the town of Massena can work together to come up with a LEO flexible response plan that will satisfy the TSA’s security requirements as well as the town’s concerns.”

Once that plan is “mutually agreed to,” Mr. McCaffrey said the town could implement whatever changes are decided upon.

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