Gov. Parris Glendening promised leaders of Baltimore's maritime community that he will make final decisions by Sept. 1 on a plan that will meet the Port of Baltimore's dredging needs for the next 20 years.

Keeping the shipping lanes dredged is considered a key to the port's ability to thrive in the face of fierce competition from Norfolk and other East Coast ports.

Glendening's comments came during a speech to the Private Sector Port Committee, made up of representatives of shipping businesses, labor and government agencies such as the Coast Guard.

Helen Bentley, a consultant for the port, said Maryland has to maintain 126 miles of channel, "more than four or five other ports together."

The state must keep shipping lanes from the port to the mouth of the Chesapeake dredged to at least 50 feet or lose the ability handle the biggest container ships, which draw more than 40 feet, she said. After years of losing business to Norfolk, the Port of Baltimore rebounded for a few years, but is once again faced with possible loss of business.

The Glendening administration has put together a dredging plan that includes five dumping sites plus open water dumping in various locations. The one remaining decision involves a site in the upper Bay that would open in 2002, operate for 13 to 25 years and hold between 50 and 100 million cubic yards of dredged material.