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    Ports look to Legislature for security upgrade funds

    Lawmakers say there's no money while port officials contend that charging users may drive business to other states.

    By DAVID KARP
    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published November 30, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- The airline industry has gotten millions from the federal government since Sept. 11 to pay for new security.

    Now, Florida's ports want their share.

    At a state Senate hearing Thursday, officials from the state's ports told legislators they will need millions to pay for new security fences, gates, cameras and officers.

    "Enhanced security and how to pay for it is undoubtedly the greatest challenge," said Jeff Brown, director of port security at Port Everglades.

    Officials said a terrorist attack on a port could be just as devastating as an assault on an airport.

    "We are not getting the attention," Brown said later. "One incident at a seaport will kill the economy of the state of Florida."

    Statewide, the Florida Ports Council estimated it would cost $50-million to upgrade port security to stop drug trafficking. That estimate will go up after Sept. 11, said Michael Rubin, vice president of the council.

    At Tampa's port, officials plan to spend $20-million on new security facilities and will pay more than $2-million a year for new security staff, spokeswoman Lori Rafter said. At the much smaller St. Petersburg port, director Michael Perez said the port paid $150,000 for a security upgrade. He doesn't expect to spend more for now.

    The Legislature, which is meeting this week to cut about $1.3-billion from the state budget, doesn't have additional funds for security this year.

    "As for extra dollars, you are talking about big money," said Sen. Anna Cowin, a Leesburg Republican, who heads the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds public safety. "I don't see any money available."

    Sen. Ronald Silver, a North Miami Democrat, asked about charging a security fee at ports.

    "People are willing to pay for security," Silver said. "They don't mind paying an extra $5 if they know it is going to security."

    Stephen Nielson of Princess Cruise Lines said that wouldn't work.

    "If we thought it was possible to pass it on to our customers, we would have done that," he said.

    Added fees could drive business to states that don't charge the tax, said Rubin of the Florida Ports Council. "It's a highly competitive environment," he said.

    Last year the state gave ports $5.5-million to pay for new security to deal with drug smuggling. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also got $1.5-million to inspect port security.

    Both of Florida's U.S. senators also support a proposal to give ports across the country $434-million in grants and $3.3-billion in loans over five years.

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