Port gets $2.3 million federal grant to boost security
By Wayne Tompkins
The Port of Miami's security operations are $2.3 million richer after receiving funding from the US Department of Homeland Security.
The money, which comes from the 2007 Supplemental Port Security Grant Program, will help the port offset the soaring security costs of federally mandated programs following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. However, the long-term costs of higher security continue to burden the port's bottom line.
Port director Bill Johnson said security costs have jumped from $4.1 million before the attacks to about $18 million today.
Mr. Johnson, who was out of town this week and not available for comment, warned earlier this summer that the port's security costs are the highest in the nation and that the increased security costs threaten to bankrupt the port.
Mr. Johnson pointed out that he has recently managed to save money by adding police officers and reducing overtime. He said, however, that raising costs to shipping lines to cover security costs carries risks that they will simply use East Coast ports such as Savannah, GA, which is doing more than twice the freight business of Miami while spending about $6 million on security.
Even the $2.3 million federal grant the Port of Miami just received requires a 25% match from the port, officials there said.
Mr. Johnson said that while federal grants pay for some security capital improvements, the port pays for those improvements' operating costs from its own budget with money that could have been used for other needs.
The port has also been forced to provide its own boat patrols to monitor its facilities, after the U.S. Coast Guard discontinued that service.
James Maes, assistant port director for safety and security, said the latest grant money will go toward "hardening access control points at the port," including a biometric based "smart card" system in which an employee must match his or her own fingerprint to one imprinted on their identity card.
"That means a borrowed or stolen card will not work in the machine," Mr. Maes said. He declined to elaborate on other projects the money will pay for, citing security concerns.
Miami-area US Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen worked to help secure the port's funding.
"This funding will help us continue to address our security needs so Miami can continue to be a leader in international trade," Rep. Diaz-Balart said
The Port Security Grant Program provides funding to prevent, protect, respond to and recover from attacks involving improvised explosive devices and other non-conventional weapons, as well as training and exercises.