Port officials want hands off grant program

American Association of Port Authorities

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Representatives of the nation’s public seaports oppose President Bush’s proposal to lump a dedicated grant program to improve port security into a larger funding pool.

Under Bush's fiscal 2007 spending plan, the Port Security Grant program, which was established in 2002, would be folded into the Targeted Infrastructure Protection (TIP) program within the Homeland Security Department’s new Preparedness Directorate.

Last year, Bush tried to consolidate the port security program into the larger grant program, but Congress rebuffed him and chose to keep the grant program separate. TIP was created to enhance security at port, railway, mass transit and other critical infrastructure facilities.

However, officials from the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), which represents 80 U.S. ports, said if the program is consolidated into a larger program, they would have to compete for funds against other transit systems, such as buses or rail.

Port security “needs will be marginalized or get lost in the shuffle,” Kurt Nagle, AAPA’s president and chief executive officer, said at a press conference today in Washington, D.C.

Officials said security needs for port operators remain great. Port officials want to implement wireless networks, interoperable communications equipment, a Global Positioning System, credentialing systems, closed-circuit television, surveillance cameras, radar tracking and other related technologies, they said.

The program, which also pays for items such as fencing, lighting and gates, pays for capital expenditures. The ports pay for operations and maintenance.

But Bernard Groseclose, president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) and AAPA chairman, said the grants program has been drastically underfunded despite the need to meet certain federal security requirements. The current level of funding for the program is $175 million. He said federal funds, which are supposed to pay for a larger share of security improvements, have only matched a small portion of what ports have spent on security so far.

For example, SCPA has spent $12.4 million on security at its Charleston, S.C., port since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but none of it was reimbursed through the grant program, according to documents AAPA provided. South Carolina port officials estimate capital expenditures of $33 million on security improvements over the next couple of years, but it has received only $11.5 million to date. Like other ports, SCPA has imposed surcharges on its customers to help pay for additional costs.

Groseclose said ports such as SCPA have had to divert at least 15 percent of their capital budgets to security issues. This is straining their ability to handle ever-increasing cargo loads that are coming through their facilities, he said.

AAPA officials said the Coast Guard has estimated that port facilities would need to spend at least $5.4 billion in the next decade to improve security. Since 2002, the Port Security Grant program has allocated more than $708 million even though port officials have requested more than $3 billion.

They said there are few other sources they can get money from to help pay for security improvements. However, the officials said they support a Senate bill that would mandate $400 million be spent through the program from 2007 through 2012.

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