San Diego Union Triune

September 27, 2006

Port only gets slice of security funding

District hopes to get answers from agency

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – The San Diego region has suffered yet another cut in federal anti-terrorism funding – this time receiving only about one-ninth of what it had asked to help protect its international port.

Highlights

San Diego Unified Port District funding from the federal Department of Homeland Security.

2006

Requested: $1.25 million

Received: $139,837

2005

Requested: $12 million

Received: $6.5 million

The San Diego Unified Port District will get barely $140,000 this year to keep its waters safe from terrorists, a fraction of the $1.25 million the port had requested. The news comes just three months after the city of San Diego learned that its share of federal anti-terrorism funding had fallen sharply as well.

“After recent reports of an increasing threat of terrorism, the Department of Homeland Security offers up a pittance for San Diego port security,” Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, said in a statement.

“It is difficult to comprehend how the Department of Homeland Security can reach the conclusion that San Diego deserves such a dramatic decrease in port security funding.”

Homeland Security officials announced Monday that they were awarding $399 million in grants to cities nationwide to help them defend their ports, transit systems and infrastructure from terrorists. The money is part of what is called the “Infrastructure Protection Program.”

Under the same program, the Port District last year got $6.5 million to help protect San Diego waters from such things as underwater devices, improvised explosives and small watercraft, as well as to protect passenger vessels and the region's cruise ship terminal. The money has been used on various things, including intrusion monitoring systems and enhanced security perimeters.

A Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman said the Port District had asked this year for $889,000 – Port District spokeswoman Irene McCormack said the port asked for $1.25 million – to pay for sonar equipment to help dive teams monitor beneath bay bridges and piers. The money was also targeted for satellite phones, command vans, laptop computers for patrol boats and fiber-optic equipment to help Harbor Police better communicate with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Navy.

The port learned it would instead get $139,837.

“I'd say for us it was probably a bit of a disappointment,” McCormack said, noting that the Department of Homeland Security ranked San Diego's port at the bottom of four tiers in terms of its risk for a terrorist attack. “But we're going to contact the (department) and try to understand why the funding level changed.”

The Port District has jurisdiction over San Diego Bay and San Diego Harbor. Its five member cities, whose coastlines are part of the port, are San Diego, Chula Vista, National City, Imperial Beach and Coronado.

“Either their priorities don't align with our national priorities, or they asked us to fund a project that we believe” is not pressing, said a Homeland Security spokeswoman, explaining why some cities get far less than they request.

Also receiving much less than they had in the past were the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which collectively got $12 million, down from $24.2 million. East Coast ports fared better, with New York winning $25.7 million, up from $6.6 million last year, and Baltimore getting $4.8 million, up from $1 million.

Under the same program, San Diego's transit programs will get $1.25 million – which includes money for intercity buses, rail lines and ferries. Local transit officials had asked for $1.4 million.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has said that San Diego is considered less vulnerable than other urban areas because of its military presence.

“It's unlikely terrorists are going to overcome the 1st Marine Division and get into the naval base,” Chertoff said in a past interview.

The Port District award is separate from the federal government's Urban Area Security Initiative grants, which San Diego can no longer apply for because federal officials believe the region is no longer at high risk for a terrorist attack. San Diego officials at the local, state and federal levels are challenging the designation, and the department has agreed to review its criteria for awarding the grants.

While San Diego was eligible for the Urban Area grants this year, its share of the anti-terrorism funding pie was still drastically smaller than a year ago. In June, the city learned that it would get just $7.9 million, far below last year's $14.7 million.

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