News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news
FRIDAY, JUNE 22, 2007

Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant employees shoot pictures during President Bush’s visit to the plant.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant employees shoot pictures during President Bush’s visit to the plant.

President puts tense folks at ease

By Eric Fleischauer · 340-2435

The dozens of sweaty reporters waiting for President Bush’s arrival at Browns Ferry groused plenty until they saw police and Secret Service agents with a worse job.

The officers — in full uniform — stood motionless in the hot, buggy woods around the plant’s perimeter.

Bush was in North Alabama for less than three hours, and at Browns Ferry for less than an hour, but it was a huge ordeal. Secret Service advance teams began preparing the site for his arrival a week ago. Police cordoned off the boat ramp of the Tennessee Valley Authority campground across the river from Browns Ferry on Thursday morning, and Coast Guard boats with twin 225-horsepower motors patrolled the river.

Barges stopped, parking lots blocked

Barges, prohibited from coming near the plant until Bush departed, piled up in a watery traffic jam.

Browns Ferry employees were blocked from their normal parking lots Thursday and had to take shuttles to the plant.

Secret Service agents — black-suited, hair close-cropped and invariably muscle-bound — stood everywhere. Just like in the movies, they were unsmiling, hands clasped at their waists.

Reporters entering the gymnasium where Bush spoke went through metal detectors, emptied their pockets and had their bags searched by intimidating agents.

All of the preparations, the tight security and the heat made for tension. Browns Ferry employees entered the room looking harried. Even dignitaries seemed hot and flustered.

The raw intensity broke at what should have been its climax, though, when Bush entered.

Cracking jokes

He was a foil to the stern-faced men who guarded him, smiling and cracking jokes. His only glare was itself a joke, aimed at a crowd that did not immediately sit down from an ovation when he instructed it to do so.

He joked that his age — 60 — “is not as old as it used to sound, until I climbed up all those stairs to get to the control room.”

When someone hollered, “Happy birthday Mr. President,” after his speech, he hollered back, “Not yet it isn’t. I’m not 61 yet!”

The gymnasium was hot before the crowds arrived and the massive bank of lights came on; it was stifling afterwards. Bush, switching topics midway through his speech, said, “I want to spend a little time on the broader strategy ...” Then he paused and, with his trademark grin, “... before we all pass out in here.”

After speaking for 30 minutes, Bush spent a full 10 minutes shaking hands. Most of the handshaking was with Browns Ferry employees, not with the crowd of dignitaries.

Not everyone in the room agreed with Bush, but all were smiling as they departed.

Except, of course, for the Secret Service agents.

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