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Feds shell out $445 million for transit, port security

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by Devlin Barrett on May 10.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Bush administration on Thursday divided $445 million in grants to protect commuters, shipping ports, and transit systems from terrorist attacks — a 10 percent increase from last year.

The Department of Homeland Security devoted most of the money to seaports and mass transit: $202 million for ports, $155 million in grants to bus and rail lines, and $48.5 million for critical infrastructure around the United States.

In the annual up-and-down of anti-terror grants to major ports, New York and San Francisco did well, while Louisiana and Texas suffered setbacks.

"In many places there will be ebbs and flows in the funding," said DHS Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson.

Smaller amounts were distributed to protect the nation's passenger rail carrier Amtrak, and bus services like Greyhound and Trailways, as well as trucking and passenger ferry services.

Grant awards are closely scrutinized by city and state officials who measure their funding against previous years — though the bigger fight is usually over which cities are judged at highest risk of attack, and how much money they each get.

The exact grant amounts are based on applications from cities, and some, like Cleveland, didn't even bother to ask for port security funds, officials said.

"We gave them every chance, we mailed them the packet," said Jackson, who called the money distribution process "a combination of art and science."

New York City, which has complained of being short changed for years saying grants are spread around too widely, was a big recipient of transit and port aid again this year. The city and surrounding areas in New Jersey and Connecticut receiving about $93 million, compared to $79.5 million in 2006, and $50 million in 2005.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. called the increase to New York "a welcome sign that DHS may now realize that the terrorists' number one target should be number one on the list for funding."

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., criticized the distribution for its 60 percent cut in funding to the Port of Baltimore.

Louisiana saw nearly half of its port money from the previous year evaporate, although the New Orleans port saw its funding jump from $737,000 to $11 million.

Baton Rouge had an 86 percent drop from $9 million to $1.6 million, while South Louisiana's port dollars went from $11 million to $2 million.

Jackson said the $23.7 million total funding for Louisiana in 2006 was an anomaly and that the revised amount this year more accurately reflected what the state has been receiving annually over the last five years.

Also facing a one-year downturn were the Texas ports of Beaumont and Port Arthur. Their funding dropped more than 50 percent, from nearly $11 million to $5.3 million.

The money tide rose dramatically for port facilities in the San Francisco Bay area, however, leaping from $1.2 million in 2006 to $14.2 million this year.

Friday, May 11, 2007

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