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Port receives grant for security gate

The Tampa Port Authority had a convincing case for the federal government to come up with a $1.5-million grant for a security gate at its Port Sutton location.

At a state-sponsored exercise in Tallahassee last February, emergency officials played out a terrifying scenario: What if terrorists blew up a storage tank of toxic anhydrous ammonia at Port Sutton, about 2{ miles southeast of downtown Tampa?

With appropriate temperatures and wind direction, a plume of gas would float into Tampa and across the bay to St. Petersburg, said Peter Miller, the port authority's security director who reviewed the group's report.

There would be "a large number of fatalities in Tampa and into St. Petersburg," he said, declining to be more specific. MacDill Air Force Base would shut down and emergency responders across the state would be strained to deal with the crisis.

Port Sutton is a separate area of marine terminals east of Hooker's Point, the main industrial center of the Port of Tampa. Two companies at Port Sutton, Kinder Morgan and Yara America, each have storage tanks for anhydrous ammonia, used in the production of fertilizer.

Florida National Guard troops set up a temporary gate at Port Sutton Road off U.S. 41 for a time after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But after the state exercise, Miller huddled with security officials from the two marine terminals and Tampa Electric Co., which operates the Gannon Station Power Plant at Port Sutton. The companies and the Tampa Port Authority each own land at Port Sutton.

The companies all meet federal security requirements on their own property. But they agreed to come up with money for a gate to the common entrance themselves if Uncle Sam didn't.

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security announced the port authority will receive a grant for $1.5-million to build the gate. The gate should be completed in six months, Miller said.

In the meantime, the port authority will continue to put up barriers with armed guards when it receives federal maritime security alerts, Miller said.

"Now, a very determined individual could drive into Kinder Morgan and drive right up to the tank," he said. "We want to have a means to stop every vehicle, with an armed guard 24-7 to make everyone stop and identify themselves."

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettelsptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

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