Baltimore will get $4.3 million in federal financing to help protect the city's state-owned marine terminals from terrorists as part of a roughly $300 million package of port security initiatives announced yesterday by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
While the money is welcome relief in the midst of a state budget crisis, lawmakers and some trade officials say the Bush administration is still not providing enough money to pay for critical security upgrades at the nation's 350 seaports.
The port of Baltimore and city police received less than half of the $11 million they sought to pay for new fencing, surveillance cameras and other equipment, officials said.
"This grant, we're certainly grateful to receive it, but it's certainly not the end-all be-all for port security," said Richard Scher, a spokesman for the Maryland Port Administration, which oversees state-owned marine terminals. "There will be additional port security grants on the horizon and we intend to apply for them."
The spending announced by Ridge yesterday includes $245 million in grants for security improvements at seaports and an additional $58 million for a pilot program that will bring local, state and federal governments together with business representatives to analyze cargo screening procedures.
The Homeland Security Department also is expanding a program that allows U.S. Customs officials to screen high-risk cargo at foreign ports before it leaves for the United States. The Container Security Initiative Program is in effect at 20 of the world's largest ports. The program will grow to include ports in Dubai, Turkey and Malaysia, among others.
"Let me be clear," said Ridge, speaking to industry officials at the port of Newark, N.J. "This is not just a response to terrorism. We believe it's a deterrent."
Industry officials agree but say the latest financing is only a start. The Coast Guard has estimated that it will cost $4 billion to secure the nation's seaports over the next 10 years, with up to $1 billion of that needed in the first year.
"The bottom line is that there's no silver bullet that's going to ensure that something could never happen," said John Hyde, director of port security for shipping giant Maersk Sealand and a former U.S. Customs inspector. "There could never be enough money."
Port advocates say they will keep pressuring the Bush administration to increase funding.
"Certainly, any and all funding is helpful, but [what we've received] really doesn't even come close to what is needed," said Maureen Ellis, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Port Authorities.
Baltimore wasn't alone in getting its grant request reduced. Ellis said ports nationwide requested nearly $997 million in grants to finance 1,380 security projects. The shortage of funds will force port authorities to dig deep to pay for security upgrades that are mandated in new federal regulations that will be announced by the Coast Guard on July 1.
"We're now at the point where there's just no more money to be had," Ellis said. "If the government wants the ports to be secure, then they need to put some money aside to do it."
Of the $4.3 million awarded to Baltimore, the port administration will get $3.17 million and the Baltimore Police Department will get $750,000. An additional $420,438 will go to CNX Marine Terminals, a privately owned coal terminal.
How the money will be spent is still unclear. Port officials said they were still waiting to learn details of the grant yesterday. News of the award was leaked by lawmakers, who had limited details.
In their application, port officials asked for funds to pay for new electronic equipment to help secure the perimeter of certain marine terminals, among other things. City police requested funds to pay for surveillance equipment that would be installed throughout the harbor and port. Cameras also will be installed on three new patrol boats that were paid for with a previous port security grant. The Police Department had asked for $800,000.
CNX had asked for funds to pay for new fencing, surveillance equipment and staff training, lawmakers said.
"We're pleased we've gotten the $4 million, but I view it as a down payment," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.