Virginia Port Authority Left Out of Latest Round of Grants

NORFOLK -- The Virginia Port Authority received no money in the latest round of federal port security grants announced Tuesday.

The Department of Homeland Security awarded $142 million in grants to shore up security at port facilities nationwide. This fifth round of port security grants was focused more on helping secure cruise lines, ferries and their terminals as well as vessels from attack.

Still the Port Authority, which owns terminals in Norfolk, Portsmouth and Newport News, had sought $7.8 million in grants for five projects.

"We're disappointed, but it's not the end of the world for us," said Joe Harris, a Port Authority spokesman. "We knew there was a chance we could be turned down given the scope of this grant."

Ed Merkle, the authority's director of security, said the Port Authority sought money for improving its command-and-control information facility; increasing waterfront surveillance ; upgrading communications; improving its cyber security; and installing chemical detection equipment.

Merkle said the denial shows how severely underfinanced the program is.

Congress has allocated about $700 million to port security since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, while the Coast Guard has estimated the need to be more than $4 billion, he said. "We need a significant increase in federal funding for the ports to really harden their facilities against terrorism," Merkle said.

The Port Authority has received $11.4 million in grants to finance security-related projects and has added $11 million of its own .

The authority will seek future grants for the projects that were declined in this round, Merkle said.

(c) 2005 The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.