The Department of Homeland Security is fast becoming the gang that can't shoot straight in the eyes of area politicians.
The agency came under fresh attack Saturday from Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds for considering "anti-terror" regulations that would restrict recreational boating, while Rep. Brian Higgins accused it of underestimating the economic impact of requiring travelers to show passports at U.S.-Canadian border crossings.
The department reportedly will propose requiring boaters to take a proficiency test, carry a new form of government-issued identification and equip their craft with expensive transmitters, which would have "a chilling effect" on boaters and boatmakers, said Reynolds, R-Clarence.
"If the passport fiasco is any indication, recreational boaters should be very wary of these potential regulations," Reynolds said.
With a Fuhrmann Boulevard marina as a backdrop, Reynolds said that, in addition to tests and new identification requirements, the department might set up a new database listing every licensed boat owner and wants every boat to carry an electronic transmitter costing $500 to $1,000.
He urged the department to work with boating trade associations and marinas "to develop a security plan that is both workable and plausible." Recreational boaters can be the "eyes and ears" of maritime security "if [the Homeland Security Department] just gets out of the way," he added.
Higgins, D-Buffalo, noted that the department had based its estimate that the passport requirement would cost the U.S. economy only $200 million annually on a projected 3.7 percent decrease in crossings by frequent travelers and a 10.7 percent to 10.9 percent drop in casual travel.
Noting that Homeland Security has eliminated the passport requirement for sea cruises because it supposedly would lead to a 74.4 percent decrease in short cruises, Higgins asked: "How can it be that . . . casual, infrequent visits to Buffalo by Torontonians would decrease by only 10.7 to 10.9 percent?"
"From their misguided justification for a northern border passport mandate to their inability to process the very passports they are requiring, this administration has demonstrated gross incompetence," Higgins added.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is scheduled to visit Buffalo on Monday to discuss the border requirements with area officials.
Reynolds said he was not surprised to be left off the list of those invited to the meeting. "He knows where I stand on this," Reynolds said. "If he has a plan, I'm all for it."