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Airport Authority OKs reopening viewing park

The Fargo Municipal Airport Authority Tuesday formally approved reopening the airport viewing park. The decision came a week after the panel first discussed the move. U.S.

The Fargo Municipal Airport Authority Tuesday formally approved reopening the airport viewing park.

The decision came a week after the panel first discussed the move.

U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley told the Authority on Tuesday he felt stonewalled last week because the original discussion took place when he was out of the room.

"It's clear we got off to a bad start last week," Wrigley said to the five-member Airport Authority.

Wrigley, along with the Transportation Security Administration and the National Guard, was against reopening the park for security reasons.

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He said he wondered about the decision-making process of the Airport Authority because security people weren't consulted.

"To me, that's not aggressive seeking out of information," he said.

Authority Chairman Virginia Clark said the board hadn't planned to vote on the viewing park at last week's meeting.

"The last meeting was a discussion," she said, "not a decision."

The viewing park, north of 19th Avenue at Hector International Airport, can hold 40 to 50 vehicles. It was closed in February, about the same time the terrorist alert level was raised from yellow to orange.

Maj. Gen. Mike Haugen, state adjutant general and commander of the North Dakota National Guard, said the park is a security concern because it's an excellent observation point. He said he looked at potential and probability to make a recommendation.

He said the security threat is low in Fargo, but that could change at any time.

Haugen said the Airport Authority needs to look at the park's hours of operation, install a gate for when the park is closed and add patrols.

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Bruce Towers, federal security director for the TSA, said there is particular concern about security for two reasons: proximity and anonymity. If the park is open, anyone can go in and stay as long as they want.

He said opening the park will require law enforcement coordination and regulatory inspections.

Towers had a video about security that was classified for security reasons. He wanted to show it to the members of the Airport Authority, but not to the public.

During a recess, two members of the Airport Authority viewed the video so they would not violate North Dakota's open meetings law.

After the meeting Wrigley said the video depicted explosions in an airport setting, and that the effects of the explosions were physically relevant to Hector International Airport.

While the Airport Authority voted unanimously to reopen the viewing park, members said four things will need to be done before that happens.

It needs to set hours, install a gate to the entrance, make arrangements with the police department and Air National Guard to patrol at all times and install signs that tell visitors to alert someone if they see a suspicious person or activity.

Wrigley said he is happy with the Airport Authority's willingness to address the issue.

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"The conclusions mirrored Haugen's recommendations," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meghan Perry at (701) 235-7311

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