Commission approves addition to Bridge Day's advisory panel

Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald Base jumpers leapi 800+ feet into the New River Gorge during the Bridge Day event held in Fayetteville.

Bridge Day 2015 vendors, BASE jumpers and rappellers may be able to choose this year to either pay for a background check with a contracted security company or submit to a biometric fingerprint scan for free.

The Bridge Day Commission in Fayette County passed a motion Wednesday that adds the option of the background check. The check would be conducted by a contracted, third party security company, said Bridge Commission Chairwoman Sharon Cruikshanks.

The cost of the background check will be $12 to $35, depending on which of the three companies the commission contracts.

"Biometric scans are a free option," Cruikshanks said. 

The paid background check option was added after BASE jumpers expressed concerns over privacy violation issues raised by a biometric scan requirement the commission added in January.

Commission members had voted at an earlier meeting to require rappellers and BASE jumpers to submit to the scan, in an effort to protect against threats of terrorism.Those whose fingerprints had previously been logged into a national database would be identified.

The scan alerts police if someone is on a terrorist watch list or has a felony arrest warrant.

Police would have to pull additional data from national criminal databases following the scan, in order to discover whether someone had committed a crime, according to statements made Wednesday.

Festival-goers would not have to submit to the scan.

On Wednesday, West Virginia State Police representatives said that the biometric scan is an added measure to protect police, since gang members  are also identified.

After local law enforcement officials expressed concerns that a private company may not provide all of the data that would be provided by a scan, Cruikshank added a caveat to the motion that the background check will only be offered if the private companies can provide criminal information from national databases.

She added that she'd thoroughly checked, prior to the meeting, with Boy Scouts of America officials who used one of the companies. She'd been assured that the background check will draw information from databases that are routinely used by law enforcement.

Information from the security checks will be given to local law enforcement, and those who want to have the background check instead of the scan must be present before 9 a.m.

Cruikshanks said in December that the scan is less invasive than a background check, since it does not require Social Security numbers. None of the data collected in the scan would be kept by officials, she added.

The measure raised the ire of BASE jumpers, however.

In December, longtime Bridge Day BASE jumping coordinator Jason Bell warned that the updated background check would put a damper on the event.

Base jumpers had also commented on online forums that they had continued to support Bridge Day, even though it's an hours-long festival that charges a fee to jump and no fee for festival-goers who watch the jumps. They added that they would not come to Bridge Day if they have to submit to a biometric scan.

Several civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Rutherford Institute, have raised concerns about the use of biometric scans by government agencies and employers.

West Virginia State Police representatives at the meeting expressed reluctance to commit Bridge Day security to a third-party business.


This year, “Bridge Jam 2015” has been added to the line-up, officials stated at the Wednesday meeting. The concert will offer music from noon to dark. The planned venue is a 40-acre field in Fayetteville, with access located on Maple Avenue and a road from Fayetteville High School that is in the process of being improved for event traffic.

Whiskey-7, the twin-engine plane that dropped American World War II paratroopers into Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, will be flown over the bridge this year, Cruikshank said.

The plane is currently kept at the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, N.Y.

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