House bill may give port $40 million for improvements

Passage this week possible for funds to dredge channels

Maritime

April 28, 1999|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The port of Baltimore stands to receive about $40 million for improvements -- including money for harbor dredging intended to help woo the Sea-Land and Maersk shipping lines there -- under a water resources act that is to be considered by the House this week.

The authorization bill, which has cleared the House Transportation Committee, is expected to pass, but congressional passage would not automatically free the federal money to help pay for the projects.

The payments must await approval by appropriations committees on which, however, Marylanders hold key positions.

Inclusion of the Maryland items in the bill makes their ultimate approval much more likely. The Senate passed a similar measure, which also affects scores of projects at ports, rivers and harbors nationwide, last week.

Lawmakers from Maryland, including Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, both Democrats, are championing the legislation to show the shipping lines that federal officials are supporting the efforts of state and local governments to draw them to Baltimore. A 25-year lease with the shipping lines would be considered a coup; the companies now provide New York and New Jersey's jointly run port with about 25 percent of its container cargo.

According to several lawmakers from Maryland and congressional aides, the $40 million would pay for widening and deepening several shipping channels, and for straightening the Tolchester Channel in Chesapeake Bay. The Tolchester Channel is shaped like an "S," requiring navigators to shift direction frequently -- at some risk in poor weather.

In addition, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who sits on the transportation committee, is seeking an amendment that would allow Washington to reimburse state governments for improvements to commercial harbors already in the works.

Current law limits reimbursements to those projects which have not yet begun -- which would cost the state millions of dollars for the harbor project.

With or without the bill, however, Maryland is planning to widen channels at the Baltimore harbor as a way to make its pitch to Sea-Land Service Inc. and Maersk Inc. more appealing.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a transportation committee member and Eastern Shore Republican who is upset about environmental damage caused by dredging, requested a study by the Army Corps of Engineers to determine its effect on the Chesapeake.

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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