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

Non-coastal ports struggle to meet security requirements, but without mega dollars of coastal ports

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.

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