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Port of Pittsburgh Commission decision results in fewer security cameras around facility

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By Margaret Harding and Bobby Kerlik

Published: Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office had to scale back efforts to make the nation's second-busiest inland port more secure because the Port of Pittsburgh Commission would not reimburse a fee paid to a security consultant.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved grants to the District Attorney's Office, which planned to install a $245,000 wireless security system from the 62nd Street Bridge to Tarentum and “create an envelope of protection around the port,” said Melissa Javorsky, the office's finance director.

Contractors installed camera equipment on the Highland Park Bridge, 62nd Street Bridge, New Kensington Bridge and Tarentum Bridge, she said. Monitoring stations went in at Tarentum, New Kensington and Sharpsburg police departments.

But the District Attorney's Office could not get the money to put cameras along Freeport Road and open monitoring stations at Fox Chapel, Harmar, Arnold, Lower Burrell and Springdale police departments.

The DA's office ran into problems when it tried to collect $185,162 in federal grants from the commission, Javorsky said. The federal government uses the commission to distribute the grant money.

“It's such a bureaucracy,” District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said. “But we'll continue to push. We'll get there. It will just take longer.”

Cmdr. Lindsay Weaver, commanding officer for the Coast Guard in Pittsburgh, said the cameras will allow law enforcement to closely monitor the Allegheny and Ohio rivers, where millions of tons of cargo is transported monthly.

“That's why the cameras were approved,” Weaver said. “We can use them to prevent issues or we can also use them for response.”

The Port of Pittsburgh told the DA's Office it would not reimburse work by consultant John Hudson, president of J.P. Hudson & Associates of Beaver, Javorsky said.

James McCarville, executive director of the commission, said it does not have a “relationship” with Hudson. He declined further comment.

Javorsky said the commission contended that Hudson's work is not eligible for reimbursement. “The (commission) and FEMA contend that services provided by our consultants are management and administrative fees, and not consulting services,” Javorsky said.

The commission says federal regulations limit funding for management and administrative fees to 2.5 percent of the grant, and Hudson's work falls under that, Javorsky said.

In the grant application, Hudson's bill for technical engineering, design and vendor selection totals $34,000.

Hudson said he believes the commission's refusal to qualify his work as consulting is personal. He said he argued with the Port of Pittsburgh Commission's Mary Ann Bucci when she called him about a newspaper report last summer that a port security grant paid for cameras to read license plates, raising concerns from the ACLU.

Bucci did not respond to requests for comment.

Javorsky said the DA's Office asked the commission for $45,000 in reimbursements for the security system in June 2012, but the commission didn't pay until January.

A request in July 2012 for $22,800 yielded a check for $4,629 in February. Because of the delays, Javorsky said, the DA's Office scaled back funding requests from $185,165 to nearly $91,000, receiving about $70,000.

“These delays hampered our ability to move forward with the project and even consider purchasing additional equipment,” Javorsky said in an email.

The DA's Office said it will continue to pursue grant money and other funding.

Sharpsburg Manager Jan Barbus said her town received two federal grants for cameras through the Port of Pittsburgh with no problems. Sharpsburg received $16,000 in May and $35,000 in June, she said. Sharpsburg used the money to buy and install about 15 cameras to bring its total to 21, police Chief Leo Rudzki said.

McKees Rocks has asked for a $10,000 reimbursement from the Port of Pittsburgh as part of a wireless camera project approved by FEMA, Borough Manager Tricia Levander said, and received about $132,000 of the $142,000 cost. When it requested $10,000 in February, she said, Bucci told her the borough owed the port $32,000 because of an overpayment.

In its grant application, the borough had budgeted about $18,000 for consulting work by Hudson.

“We made an application and said, ‘This is how we're going to spend it,' ” McKees Rocks police Chief Robert Cifrulak said. “And we were approved.”

The borough paid the $10,000, Levander said.

“We looked under sofa cushions and took it from other budget lines, expecting it to be reimbursed,” Cifrulak said. “Now we're scratching our heads wondering how we're going to pay for this.”

Margaret Harding and Bobby Kerlik are staff writers for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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