WASHINGTON Salt Lake City is on an expanded list of cities across the country considered at high risk of a terrorist attack, according to a new list of funding priorities from the Homeland Security Department.
Last year the department made 45 cities or regions eligible for a competitive counterterrorism grant program. This year, the list has been expanded to 60 areas that can apply for the nearly $782 million available, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The urban area grants are one of the department's most popular and most intensely debated programs. The department divides the regions at highest risk of a terrorist attack into two tiers. The seven highest-risk areas including Los Angeles, New York and Washington will be competing for about $430 million this year. The remaining 53 will compete for about $352 million. The department plans to release the list today.
The list has grown and shrunk in recent years, based on decisions the department says are not the result of specific threats or concerns but that reflect an overall analysis of threat data.
"It doesn't mean that terrorists have their eyes on us," said Nicole Hunter, a Homeland Security spokeswoman in Salt Lake City.
Some regions on the list in the past were dropped more recently. For instance, Albany, N.Y., was put back on the list this year after being dropped in 2003.
Other regions added to the list this year are: Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y.; Austin and Round Rock, Texas; Baton Rouge, La.; Bridgeport, Stamford and Norwalk, Conn.; the Hartford, Conn., region; Louisville and Jefferson County in Kentucky and an adjoining area in Indiana; Nashville, Davidson County and Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Richmond, Va.; Riverside, San Bernardino and Ontario, Calif.; San Juan, Caguas and Guaynabo, Puerto Rico; and Toledo, Ohio.
Every year, the list pleases and angers elected officials based on which cities are added or dropped. But this year, Congress insisted that the department include more cities.
In adding new regions to the list, officials are helping to fund counterterrorism efforts in communities that could not afford them otherwise, said Salt Lake police Detective Jeff Bedard. He said the state could use money to help protect a number of high-profile structures.
"The way we view it is that it's beneficial to Salt Lake City, its residents and visitors," Bedard said. "It's one of these situations where you can only plan to do it right once. If you get it wrong, and you don't take the basic precautions, that's when you end up regretting it."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, said he is thrilled that cities from his state will receive counterterrorism money. Last year, there were no cities from his state on the urban area list.
Lieberman's counterpart in the House, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., is also pleased with the department's funding decisions, even though only a small area in Mississippi, near Memphis, is included.
But Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., criticized the department for spreading the money widely, even though she voted for the legislation that required the department to do so.
"Strict criteria should be implemented to ensure that only high-threat cities" get money from the program, Lowey said.
Mayors of the biggest U.S. cities have long claimed the list should be pared down to funnel more dollars to those places at greatest risk; and mayors of mid-sized cities insist terrorists don't ignore them, and neither should the government.
Also today, the department is expected to announce transit and port security grants. New York and New Jersey will receive $43 million in port security grants, the highest of any area in the nation.
The Los Angeles-Long Beach port will get $36 million, and Houston and Galveston, Texas will get about $31 million. Connecticut, New York and New Jersey will get more than $150 million for transit security, while Washington will get about $39 million.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the funding to New York for port and transit has increased significantly, an indication the government is listening to lawmakers' concerns.
"Last year was the best year by far we ever had for funding, and now we're going higher," King said. "This is a real recognition by the department that New York is clearly the best when it comes to providing homeland security protection at the local, state and city level."
On Monday, President Bush is expected to ask, as part of his final budget request, for $2.2 billion to help states and cities protect against terrorist attacks.Bush will also ask for more than $12 billion for border security and immigration enforcement, a 19 percent increase over what Congress appropriated for these programs in 2008. This money would go toward building a fence along the southwest border and enforcing immigration laws, such as deporting illegal immigrants and holding businesses accountable for hiring people who are in the country illegally.
Contributing: Aaron Falk, Deseret Morning News