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Quick and Dirty

Port Whine

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 3/29/2006

Amid the Sturm und Drang of the fading Dubai Ports World deal, the state legislature has been considering an exemption of normal procurement rules for the Port of Baltimore. In hearings at the House and Senate on March 14 and 15, the measure received all favorable testimony from industry representatives, Ehrlich administration appointees, and even unions (who would like, please, a small amendment to guarantee union-level “prevailing wages” in any new deals).

Stemming from a year-old private consultant’s report, the changes—which would exempt from state procurement regulations most construction, maintenance, and security contracts undertaken by the Port of Baltimore—are likely to become law.

“We estimate we’re going to save anywhere from 70 to 100 days” on procuring contracts, said Kathy Broadwater, deputy executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, after the Senate hearing. She and others used the example of a warehouse for paper and cardboard that took more than eight months to commission. It should have taken three months, she said.

The main idea is efficiency. You know—moving at the speed of business. All the other ports up and down the East Coast already have streamlined purchasing authority, proponents contend. And so when a big shipper needs new infrastructure, if Baltimore can’t supply it and, say, Norfolk, Va., can, then Baltimore loses.

But the legislation would also help cover the port administration’s ass—this according to Maryland Port Administration Commissioner John G. Gary, a former state delegate for Anne Arundel County who served four years on a procurement subcommittee.

“It took us over 16 months to put security cameras” in the port authority, he lamented. “And during that time the Sun paper wrote about it.” The cameras “would have been in place” before The Sun published, he contended, “had we not had that long, drawn-out process.”

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