Regional senators backing port deal; Resolution will support work to accommodate Maersk, Sea-Land hub; Shipping


ANNAPOLIS -- Members of the Maryland General Assembly are lining up behind a proposal to renovate the Dundalk Marine Terminal for two of the world's largest steamship lines, even before they know how much the effort would cost the state.

The Maryland Port Administration is still negotiating with Maersk Inc. and Sea-Land Service Inc., but has offered to pay for renovations and construction to accommodate their deep-draft vessels if the lines agree to make Baltimore their East Coast hub.

Deep into a two-hour briefing on the negotiations, senators from the jurisdictions surrounding the port of Baltimore voted unanimously yesterday to draft a resolution supporting the deal.

Port Administration Executive Director James White would not say how much the deal might cost Maryland, even when asked by Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the Baltimore-area Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Hoffman asked for more information later, but added, "I think it's fair to say the budget committee will do whatever it takes."

From there, senators from the city and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties took turns praising the deal's potential. The deal is expected to cost the state several hundred million dollars, but none of the legislators will know its actual price until the negotiations are completed in several weeks.

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, another Baltimore Democrat, called the deal "an opportunity we can't let pass."

When asked how much money Maryland should spend to build the new facility that Maersk and Sea-Land would need, Sen. George W. Della Jr., also a Baltimore Democrat, responded simply: "Do you know how much money we spent building two stadiums?" The Ravens and Orioles stadiums cost about $502 million combined.

"Trust me," Della said. "This is a good investment."

A representative of local Longshoremen estimated that Maersk and Sea-Land could create as many as 5,000 jobs if they choose Baltimore as their East Coast hub. The two companies are expected to announce next month whether they will consolidate their cargo in Baltimore, New York or Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat, offered a resolution declaring that the General Assembly fully supports the deal, and urged Maryland Port Administration officials to present it to the two companies.

Legislators predicted that the resolution will face little opposition from senators in districts outside the area, but that won't be tested until the Baltimore-area senators start seeking co-sponsors. It passed among the assembled senators without opposition.

"I thank God we're all on board," Della said as he rose from his seat at the meeting's end.

"Let's all join hands," added Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, an Anne Arundel Democrat.

Pub Date: 1/22/99

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