By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT

The Dubai port operations acquisition controversy may have been wrought with misinformation, but Sen. Susan M. Collins, R-Maine, and other participants in last week’s American Association of Port Authorities Spring Conference believe the brouhaha has had at least one significant positive impact ’ bringing attention to US ports.

‘The silver lining is it focused much-needed public attention on the need for port security,’ Collins said at a March 21 luncheon at which she received the AAPA 2006 Port Person of the Year award.

‘There are now more members of Congress than ever before joining those of us who have long-argued that our ports are a major vulnerability in our homeland security,’ Collins told attendees of the luncheon, which was hosted by Alexandria, VA-based AAPA at the historic Willard Intercontinental Hotel, two blocks from the White House.

Other conference speakers expressed even broader appreciation for the attention generated by DP World’s plans to acquire P&O Ports operations at several US terminals.

‘Americans discovered that we have ports, and I don’t mean that entirely in jest,’ said Jeffrey N. Shane, undersecretary for policy of the US Department of Transportation, whose remarks focused on the need for addressing capacity issues. ‘Call me a cockeyed optimist’ but, when the dust settles, we will have an easier case to make as a result of this controversy.’

Bernard S. Groseclose Jr., president and chief executive officer, South Carolina State Ports Authority, and AAPA chairman of the board, commented, ‘My hope is that the Dubai thing will bring attention particularly to port security issues.’

In introducing Collins, Groseclose commended the Maine senator for her ‘longstanding commitment to America’s ports,’ particularly on security-related matters.

Most recently, Collins, who chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, last week succeeded in offering an amendment to the 2007 budget resolution to ensure no less than $300 million in dedicated funding for port security grants. Last spring, she introduced the Port Security Grants Act, to provide $400 million per year for five years.

Collins was joined by Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington State in November when they introduced the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act. Collins said, ‘This should be a bipartisan issue. There’s nothing partisan about protecting our ports.’

In a March 20 briefing at the AAPA conference, Shay Hancock, legislative assistant to Murray, said she is very optimistic about advancement of the GreenLane legislation. Murray was last year’s recipient of the AAPA port person of the year award.

Collins noted that the legislation would direct the US Department of Homeland Security to develop a strategic plan to strengthen security for all modes of transportation in and out of ports; create an Office of Cargo Security Policy; require DHS to move faster to institute measures, such as the long-delayed transportation worker identification card (TWIC) program; require, within one year of enactment, scanning with radiation-detection equipment of 100% of incoming cargo containers; and provide ongoing, predictable funding to support container security programs.

‘The urgency of acting on port security cannot be overstated,’ Collins said. ‘Clearly, our cargo ports provide a tempting target’ In addition to the threat of a direct attack on any port, any one of the more than nine million containers that enter the United States each year has the potential to be the Trojan horse of the 21st century.

‘Despite the acknowledged vulnerability of our ports, we have continually underfunded port security,’ she said. ‘Further complicating the issue, the administration has again proposed the consolidation of all transportation and critical infrastructure grants into one program, the Targeted Infrastructure Protection Program, or TIPP. I oppose this proposal because I believe that a dedicated funding stream is essential to addressing po