MD. GOVERNOR SET TO SIGN TAKEOVER BILL STATE TO OPERATE PORT TERMINALS

MD. GOVERNOR SET TO SIGN TAKEOVER BILL STATE TO OPERATE PORT TERMINALS

Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer will give the Port of Baltimore's new high-technology container facility a crucial boost today when he signs port terminal takeover legislation.

The $250 million Seagirt Marine Terminal, dogged by uncertain labor conditions at Baltimore and problems getting its automated gate system finished, remains unopened, and there is no set date for an opening.A direct result of months of labor turmoil with longshoremen over costs and manning levels, the takeover bill gives the Maryland Port Administration authority to operate its terminals directly and to negotiate labor agreements with the International Longshoremen's Association.

The port traditionally has acted as a landlord, hiring private stevedore firms to operate its terminals and leaving labor negotiations to employer and union representatives.

With the takeover bill now law, initial operation of the Seagirt intermodal rail-truck-water terminal will hinge on how quickly port officials can negotiate a labor package with the union, and, just as important, on how it decides to operate the facility.

On the latter point, Brendan W. O'Malley, executive director of the port administration, said: "We're still examining several options and preparing a report for the governor."

He added that "things will take shape in reasonably quick order."

The port administration might choose to operate Seagirt directly. It could form a subsidiary operating company similar to Virginia International Terminals Inc. at the Port of Hampton Roads, Va. It even may continue its tradition of hiring private stevedore firms to operate the terminal.

Ceres Terminals Inc. is the stevedore at the rail container transfer facility immediately adjacent to Seagirt.

Mr. O'Malley said the port is "examining seriously" the idea of forming a subsidiary corporation either to run Seagirt directly or to hire a private stevedore agent.

In either case, he continued, the port will maintain control over costs and labor issues. "We won't surrender that responsibility," he said.

Port budget documents last month indicated that officials "strongly favor the subsidiary corporation alternative." But there are more recent rumors that the private agent option is still alive.

Meanwhile, three carriers that have signed letters of intent to use Seagirt are biding their time in making a final commitment until the labor and operational issues are clearer.

Atlantic Container Line and Hapag-Lloyd (America) Inc. have signed letters of intent. A third signer has not been officially identified, but is widely believed to be Evergreen International (U.S.A.) Corp.