Port could get increase in security funds

$1.8 million grant is set aside, but it must be applied for

August 18, 2007|By Siobhan Gorman | Siobhan Gorman,Sun reporter

Washington -- The port of Baltimore expects to get a significant, unexpected infusion of federal dollars from a pot of homeland security money carved out of the supplemental war spending bill that President Bush signed this year.

The $1.8 million grant would nearly double the amount the port received in May through the annual port security grant program and largely makes up for the sharp funding cut that the port took when the grants were doled out.

"Ports are high-threat targets for terrorism," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said in a statement. "We need to make sure the port of Baltimore and all ports across America are safe, secure and growing."

While $1.8 million has been set aside for Baltimore, the port must apply for the money, and port officials said they would sit down with Homeland Security representatives and work out a plan for how best to use the money.

"The money is separate from the grant process, so it's not allocated to anything specifically," said J.B. Hanson, a port spokesman. "We'll use the money to enhance security in some way."

The grants are designated primarily for developing and implementing plans to reduce the risk of a terrorist attack at the port, as well as establishing procedures for continuing operations in the event of an attack or a natural disaster.

Twenty percent of the money must be used for establishing a portwide security strategy.

When the Department of Homeland Security's port grants were announced in May, funding for the port of Baltimore declined 60 percent to $1.8 million from $4.8 million -- largely because the port submitted a weak application, compared with those submitted by other ports competing for the grants. This new money would bring the 2007 total to $3.7 million.

Baltimore also has suffered from its designation as a "Tier II" port, lawmakers from Maryland said.

This year, Homeland Security, for the first time, ranked ports loosely by their national security significance, and Baltimore fell into the second tier, in which it must compete with 17 ports for the money, much to the consternation of Mikulski and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.

The Maryland senators, both Democrats, wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in May questioning Baltimore's categorization as a Tier II port "given its proximity to the nation's capital as well as major population centers."

Chertoff has defended the approach as necessary for ensuring that the cities facing the greatest risk of an attack or natural disaster get the largest percentage of the federal money available.

Mikulski, a member of the appropriations committee, worked to ensure that Baltimore fared better in the war-funding bill than it did with the grants, said her spokesman, Melissa Schwartz.

"Senator Mikulski has had ongoing negotiations with officials at the Department of Homeland Security to make sure that the port of Baltimore gets its fair share," she said.

State and local Homeland Security grants included in the war spending bill totaled to $260 million, most of which was allocated based on the tier system in which 60 percent of the money went to eight "Tier I" cities, which include New York and Los Angeles, and 20 percent went to the "Tier II" cities.

As part of the new homeland security funding, Maryland also will receive slightly less than $1 million to enhance emergency preparedness.

And the National Capital Region, which includes Montgomery and Prince George's counties, will receive $11.1 million to bolster bus and rail security.


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