Non-Coastal Ports Strive to Improve Security while not Seeing Budget Boost

WASHINGTON (AP) - Fences now enclose many docks on the Great Lakes, extra lighting has been installed, security patrols added and new surveillance cameras positioned to record all traffic in and out.

The changes are required by law at all ports nationwide, but Great Lakes ports, vessels and companies received 2.6 percent of the federal money designated for the upgrades. Most of the cash has gone to coastal ports, which arguably face the greater threat.

Port directors say they are spending money on security that otherwise would pay for improvements -- such as dredging channels -- at the gateways for materials used in construction and to produce steel used in automobiles, appliances and other consumer goods.

The volume of imported cargo moving through U.S. ports is expected to double by 2020, according to the U.S. Customs Service. Canada is the nation's largest trading partner.

"How are we going to handle that and meet these security requirements?'' asked Steve Pfeiffer, maritime director for the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority.

The U.S. Coast Guard has estimated that it will cost more than $1.5 billion for the first year and $7.3 billion over 10 years for the nation's ports to complete security changes established after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The maritime industry was to implement by July 1 security plans that include cargo checks, advance notification of docking and restricted access to docks.

Before the attacks, officials with the St. Lawrence Seaway Development & Management Corp. boarded ships to do safety and environmental checks.

"Security was not really a part of that inspection,'' said Capt. Randy Helland, chief of marine safety for the U.S. Coast Guard district that includes the Great Lakes.

Since 2002, the Homeland Security Department has handed out nearly $490 million to help ports, vessels and private companies upgrade security. Helland said nearly $13 million has gone to pay for 43 projects in eight states that border the five lakes -- Superior, Erie, Michigan, Huron and Ontario.

"The Great Lakes were in a Catch-22. We were required to do the same thing, but the grant program was steered more toward larger ocean ports,'' said Steve Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association.

Homeland Security spokesman Marc Short said the grants are competitive and go to ports with the highest number of passengers and amount of cargo and hazardous material shipments.

"There is not going to be an infinite amount of resources available,'' Short said. ``So just because a port doesn't receive funds doesn't mean we don't believe there isn't a need there, it just means it's a relative determination in relation to other ports.''

The new rules are intended to keep terrorists from smuggling anything into the United States through the ports or taking control of a vessel and using it to launch a chemical attack or disrupt operations at a nuclear facility on the waterfront.

The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, which manages one of the busiest ports on the Great Lakes, received $400,000 to install a new surveillance camera system.

But security costs have doubled from $150,000 in 2002 to a projected $300,000 next year, and that doesn't include the cost of hiring three more employees, Pfeiffer said.

"These grants pay for infrastructure improvements. They'll help pay for the camera system, but they won't help you pay to get the people to watch the camera, and they don't pay to maintain the system,'' he said.

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority in Minnesota used a $400,600 grant to pay half the cost of a new perimeter fence. But when vessels are at the dock, the port bills the ship for the cost of hiring a round-the-clock guard, said Capt. Ray Skelton, security director.

"Whatever the additional costs are, we just eat them,'' he said.

In Toledo, security upgrades have cost $200,000 to $300,000 over the last two years. That's not including two grants that totaled about $1.1 million.

Great Lakes ships don't carry containers, so shippers aren't required to conduct such searches. But the government's goal of having uniform standards of security at ports nationwide means that most mandates apply to the Great Lakes even though vessels there travel mostly between the United States and Canada, carrying loads of limestone, steel or grain that are easier to check.

"I'm certainly not going to say that security regulations weren't needed, but we weren't one of the high risk areas,'' said Glen Nekvasil, spokesman for the Lake Carriers Association.

More than 200 million tons of cargo are moved on the Great Lakes each year. Any disruption in iron ore and limestone shipments could delay steel production, which would slow shipments to automakers and goods to consumers.

"It would be, frankly, impossible to muster the resources at short notice to replace the load these ships carry,'' said Dan Cornillie, a manager at Ispat Inland, an East Chicago, Ind., steel company on the banks of Lake Michigan. ``Everything would just stop.''

Next year's federal budget allocates $150 million for port security grants. The American Association of Port Authorities says the sum should be closer to $400 million.

"That is still only a relatively small portion of what the total expenses are,'' said Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the group.

At least five lawmakers have introduced bills to increase funding for port security. The bills will have to be reintroduced again next year.

U.S. Rep. Doug Ose, R-Calif., told a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in June that it's time the government stepped up its financial commitment to ports, both on the coasts and Great Lakes:

"Since America's ports are crucial to our economic well-being, it is essential that we find the right balance between increasing port security while not impeding the flow of commerce and trade,'' he said.