Members of the State Senate this week called on the New York Congressional Delegation to urge President George Bush to order a further investigation of the potential risks associated with the sale of Port of New York operations to Dubai Ports World. The Senate called for the Congressional action in a resolution passed Feb. 27. The Senate also announced a new package of legislation that would address security gaps that currently exist at the port that make the metropolitan area vulnerable to terrorist attack.
Senator Michael Balboni (R-East Williston), chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Homeland Security, said, "While we are encouraged by the news that Dubai Ports World will delay its plans to take over port operations, this transaction requires careful review to ensure it poses no threat to our national security. A Congressional investigation will expose any risks if they do exist."
Senator Vincent Leibell (R-C-I, Patterson), chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, which maintains legislative oversight over the Port Authority, said, "The first obligation of government is to provide for the protection of the public. Our ports, terminals and transportation facilities are a critical function and by their very nature, are essential to the security of the state and nation. New York State and the federal government cannot have public security jeopardized or bargained away by means of a contract. We cannot put that security in the hands of any foreign or corporate interest. September 11th showed us that we need to be vigilant and on guard. This issue with the Dubai World Ports lease raises serious and profound security issues. We must take every step necessary to ensure the protection of the public and their transportation assets."
According to Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, "As elected officials, the first priority of the State Senate is to provide protection and ensure the safety of the citizens of New York State, which is why we are calling for an investigation into the sale of several ports, particularly the ports of New York and New Jersey. Senators Balboni and Leibell have taken the lead on this issue and other members of our conference will join them in the effort to ensure the safety of our ports and our citizens."
Bruno also announced the creation of the Senate Majority Task Force on Port Security, which will be chaired by Senator Frank Padavan (R-C, Bellerose) and include Senators Balboni, Leibell, John Marchi (R, Staten Island), Serphin Maltese (Queens), Martin Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn) and Nick Spano (R-C, Westchester). The Task Force will hold hearings on port security issues.
According to federal statute, the sale of critical infrastructure to a company controlled by a foreign power may be reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The investigation may take up to 45 days. The committee is chaired by the Federal Department of Treasury and includes the Departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security and the Attorney General. The committee would determine if the sale of port operations could affect national security and should go forward.
The senators also announced a package of new legislation aimed at increasing security at the Port of New York and New Jersey. The bills were recommended by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor as vital to further safeguarding the port waterfront area. The legislation has already been passed into law in New Jersey, but cannot go into effect at the port until the state of New York also acts.
The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor (WCNYH) was established in August of 1953. Under statutory mandate, the mission of the Commission is to investigate, deter, combat, and remedy criminal activity and influence in the Port of New York and New Jersey.
Balboni recently released the report After the Storm...New York's State of Readiness that exposed insufficient security at the Port of New York. The findings in the report were based on a hearing conducted by the Senate Homeland Security Committee last spring. In 2002, Balboni, Leibell and Senators James Wright and Thomas Morahan participated in an extensive tour of the port that included security measures being utilized there and just last week Leibell met with Kenneth J. Ringler, Jr., executive director of the Port Authority of NY/NJ, on the need for corporate accountability at the port.
Specifically, the Senate port security bills would:
• Expand the Waterfront Commission's ability to revoke or deny a license or registration to port workers associated with terrorism, racketeering or other organized crime groups (S.6822);
• Strengthen the Commission's ability to revoke or deny a license or registration of port workers who are associated with illegal drug activity; and
• Allow the Waterfront Commission to obtain disclosure from witnesses outside of the commission's jurisdiction of New York and New Jersey. The commission has conducted numerous investigations in which out-of-state witnesses have refused to appear. This bill will give the commission great subpoena power.