The Maryland Board of Public Works approved nearly $6 million in security upgrades for the port of Baltimore yesterday, despite worries from the governor and state treasurer about whether a new security camera system would be adequate.
In addition to a $5.5 million surveillance system, the board approved $433,000 for 17 hand-held devices to detect explosives, chemical weapons and narcotics.
The camera system is intended to help port officials monitor fences, terminals gates and piers.
The contract award comes a month after The Sun reported that many areas of the port were not covered by security cameras and that in some places, port workers had erected wooden dummy cameras to provide the illusion of security.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, a Democrat, questioned whether the winning bidder would be able to provide the comprehensive system the port needs.
The winning bid placed second in a contest of technical qualifications but offered the lowest price. Adesta LLC's bid was roughly one-third that of the firm with the top technical score and $4 million less than two other firms.
"I just want to note there's a big difference between the awarded bidder and the one who was technically first," Kopp said. "Are we quite sure that [the contract] is all that we would really want or need?"
Ehrlich added, "What concerns me and what concerns the treasurer is the wide disparity between one and two on the number end. It raises a potential concern about quality, what the heck we're buying here."
Deputy Transportation Secretary James F. Ports Jr. said he is confident that Adesta's winning bid would provide a system that met the state's specifications, which were developed with help from a security consultant.
"It was what we were looking for and what the consultant said we need to protect the port," he said. "We feel very good about what we're asking for."
Ports said the technical scores were compiled without knowledge of the bidders' proposed prices. "We weren't looking for the cheapest," Ports said.
Adesta, of Omaha, Neb., recently emerged from bankruptcy, and Ports said he believed the firm was "hungry" for the work. He also suggested that differing overhead costs between Omaha and Alexandria, Va., home of the top-ranked and most expensive bidder, ADT Security Systems Inc., might explain the difference.
ADT's bid was $16.2 million. Adesta's initial bid was $7.7 million, but when state officials asked bidders to submit their final and lowest offers, the company dropped its bid to $5.5 million, Ports said.
After the discussion, Ehrlich and Kopp joined the third member of the board, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, in approving the award.
A study by the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security this year placed Baltimore among 66 ports nationwide considered particularly vulnerable to terrorists.
The lack of video surveillance worried some officers of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, who told The Sun they were concerned that intruders could easily gain access to hazardous materials.
Barriers to be built
The Adesta contract calls for the company to install a system that will allow security personnel to respond to intrusions, suspicious activities and crimes. The company also will install barriers to prevent unauthorized vehicles from entering the port.
The hand-held detectors are designed to identify more than 40 explosives, chemical weapons agents and narcotics. The federal government will cover 80 percent of the costs of the contracts.