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Gianaris bill would boost terror defense

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) has introduced legislation to have the director of the state Office of Homeland Security keep an eye on all facilities owned by the MTA, making sure they are prepared for a terrorist attack.

“We’ve delayed long enough in actually providing this oversight,” Gianaris said.

The senator referred the bill to the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee in January, but in promoting his bill he made mention of a recent report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was many years behind and over-budget in its capital security program to protect the subways, buses, trains and bridges. The MTA has been working on this program, which involves upgrades such as improved lighting, communication systems, fire detection and perimeter protection since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“The MTA has made progress, particularly in the last two years, but the mass transit system is still inherently vulnerable,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

The office said the MTA’s project was budgeted for $591 million but has now grown to $851 million and is expected to be finished in June 2012, although it was supposed to be completed in September 2008.

“What’s clear from the comptroller’s report is that not enough is being done,” Gianaris said.

The bill is modeled on two measures Gianaris wrote while he was a state assemblyman: the Power Plant Security Act and the Chemical Storage Security Act. He said anti-terrorist measures are a unique and specialized field and that experts should have a hand in overseeing the process. He also predicted this would not have a high cost attached to it.

“The office that would provide this oversight already exists and is already doing a lot of this work in other areas,” he said.

The state Office of Homeland Security and the comptroller’s office said they had no comment on the bill at this time.

The MTA also declined to comment on Gianaris’ bill, although in a statement about DiNapoli’s report it emphasized the steps forward it had taken in security.

“We have increased the number of security personnel, hardened our system and work remains on track to complete remaining projects within the current budget,” the MTA said. “While you cannot put a price tag on the safety and security of our customers, we continue to identify cost-savings within our capital program.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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