The answer is terrorism, says Maj. Michael Minion, chief of operations for the Richmond Sheriff's Department. The park's access road passes by the wastewater treatment plant on the south side of the James. It wouldn't be difficult for someone to enter the park, "divert themselves over to the water treatment plant and blow it up," Minion says.
So in October, the city designated the spot as one of nine to be patrolled by sheriff's deputies. Two are stationed at the plant one checks IDs, Minion says, while the other roves the compound.
The landing is used almost exclusively by boaters and fishermen, so deputies get suspicious when they see a visitor with no rod and reel, no boat and no fishing license, says Minion. When those visitors are questioned, he says, often "they turn around and they leave. Obviously they were coming to do something else."
Deputies told him they suspect the park was formerly a popular spot for prostitutes and their clients, as well as for anyone who wanted to drink or do drugs unseen. People would also sneak in at night to steal boulders and dump demolition debris in the parking lot, says Ralph White, manager of the James River Park System.
Now, word has gotten out and crime is down, Minion says. Most visitors are thrilled with the cleaner, safer park, White says, although some legitimate fishermen object to the ID checks. "There was a lot of joking about making sure our fecal material was protected," he says.
But securing the plant is no joke, White and Minion point out, especially with two enormous chemical tanks sitting by the entrance. Even before Sept. 11, White says, city officials realized it would be easy for "a terrorist, or an angry drunk guy" to breach a chlorine tank, for example, and create a situation that could be catastrophic.
By next summer, the access road will be rerouted away from the plant, says White. As to how long the deputies will remain, Minion says, the city will have to decide. MELISSA SCOTT SINCLAIR