Daily Breeze

February 27, 2002

Send money, port officials tell congress

By Toby Eckert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- A significant infusion of federal funds is needed to pay for security enhancements at the nation's seaports to guard against terrorist attacks, port officials told lawmakers on Tuesday.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will each need $12 million to $20 million, Richard Steinke, executive director of the Long Beach port, estimated.

The $93 million in grants for major seaports approved by Congress late last year as part of a defense spending bill ""is a good first step, but significantly more money is needed,'' he told the Senate Judiciary terrorism subcommittee.

""Every capital project that we undertake now has a new element built into it. Our plans for a new bridge or pier, widening of a channel or erecting a crane all now must include considerations for security enhancements,'' said Steinke, who is also chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities.

Comprehensive port security legislation passed by the Senate in December would authorize $1.2 billion in federal spending for a number of upgrades. That includes $390 million in direct grants to ports and another $166 million to guarantee up to $3.3 billion in loans to ports.

However, the House has yet to take up the legislation, despite numerous hearings that have highlighted the vulnerability of ports since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Experts are particularly concerned about the possibility of concealing a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon in cargo containers, few of which are inspected.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., indicated the Senate is not through with the issue. ""There's much more that we can do to ensure the safety and integrity of seaports and the communities that surround them,'' said Feinstein, who chairs the subcommittee.

However, Feinstein expressed strong reservations about a Bush administration effort to have most cargo bound for the United States screened at foreign ports before it is shipped. Relying too much on such a system could create security problems, including bribery of foreign inspectors by terrorist groups, she suggested.

""I think the only protection is our own port structure,'' she said.
But William G. Schubert, maritime administrator for the Department of Transportation, defended the idea.

""We must have some kind of pre-screening in the foreign ports,'' he told the subcommittee. ""We need to be able to do this profile before it's loaded on the ship.''

Transportation officials expect to start awarding some of the $93 million in port security grants in June, Schubert said.
""We are moving very quickly to put this money to work,'' he said. ""...We will focus on critical seaports. Preference will also be given to ports that have already begun port security enhancements through some demonstrated action.''