Security will be tight on and around the Mackinac Bridge during the annual Labor Day walk, although no extra precautions were ordered after a recent terrorism scare that proved to be a false alarm, a state official said Friday.
The U.S. Coast Guard will establish a security zone for a quarter-mile on both sides of the bridge Monday, starting an hour before the walk begins at 7 a.m. Boats approaching the zone will be checked before being allowed to pass under the bridge.
About 200 National Guard troops will be stationed on the five-mile-long span linking Michigan's two peninsulas, and officers with 13 law enforcement agencies will be on hand, said Bob Sweeney, executive director of the Mackinac Bridge Authority.
"We have a very comprehensive security plan, and we feel our procedures will ensure the highest level of safety and a pleasurable experience for everybody that's going to participate," he said.
Security for the walk was intensified after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sweeney said. The methods have been tweaked a bit since then but are essentially the same, he said.
Speculation that terrorists might target the bridge surfaced last month when three Texas men of Palestinian descent were arrested in Tuscola County after buying large quantities of prepaid cell phones.
The van in which the phones were found also had a digital camera with images of the bridge, prompting authorities to charge the men with surveying a vulnerable target for terrorist purposes.
The charge was dropped after the FBI and state police said there was no imminent threat to the bridge and no information linking the men to terrorist groups. They were, however, charged with federal conspiracy and money laundering counts.
Inflicting major damage on the Mackinac Bridge "would really take a major, concerted effort," Sweeney said. "There would be a lot of red flags coming our way prior to anything like that."
Between 40,000 and 50,000 people are expected to take part in the walk, he said.