Construction of a multi-agency strategic command center at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge is running behind schedule but officials are still hoping to have it open by the end of the year.

The three-story, $3 million Marine Security Operations Center will serve as dispatch facilities for all West Baton Rouge Parish firefighter and law enforcement agencies.

It also will house personnel when necessary for hurricanes or other emergencies along the Mississippi River.

Several commissioners expressed concern about delays on the project, which is being helmed by Block Construction.

Chris Odom, of port engineering firm Pyburn & Odom, said that at this point the project is only about a month behind the latest schedule and should be completed by the end of September.

He said there are financial penalties for finishing the project late, but they don’t come into play until after delays accounted for in recent change orders take place.

Port Director Jay Hardman said he would like to have the work done in time for the port to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony some time in December.

The project costs will be covered by a mix of sources.

Hardman said $1 million will come from a federal port security grant, while an additional $2 million will come from capital outlay funds.

West Baton Rouge will contribute $650,000 for its portion, and the port will put up the rest.

Hardman said the final tally will be about $4.3 million, after change orders and other adjustments such as adding generator, card-access system, furniture and landscaping.

In other business, the port heard a presentation by Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff Beauregard “Bud” Torres about Joint Task Force 7, a budding initiative among seven local sheriff’s offices to provide maritime security, particularly anti-terrorism, on and along the river.

Last month the port approved spending roughly $5 million in Homeland Security grants for JTF7. Torres said annual operations will be about $3 million, though the group, made up of sheriff’s offices in East and West Baton Rouge, East and West Feliciana, Pointe Coupee, Iberville and Ascension parishes, will work to get the annual operations funded by local industry.

The port also voted to make it a practice to select engineers for port projects on a project-by-project basis to allow for firms to be chosen based on whether their qualifications are suited for a specific job.

Such professional services, Hardman said, are not required to be bid out to the lowest bidder.