The Port of Baltimore has won approval from the U.S. Navy to do more ship repair and overhaul work for the Norfolk, Va., home port.

A spokesman for Maryland Rep. Helen Delich Bentley said the Republican congresswoman representing Baltimore County received word of the decision in a private meeting with Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. last week.

The extension would include 100 Navy ships now stationed in Norfolk. Baltimore would be able to bid on routine overhaul work for the ships, Bentley said in a statement.

"It is my understanding that all the bidding will be fixed-price, which means the lowest bid will prevail," she said.

Lehman included Baltimore in the definition of the "home port" of Norfolk. Under Navy procedures, one-third of repair and overhaul jobs of ships based in Norfolk must be conducted within the home port.

The decision means that, when a home-port repair contract is available, Baltimore may compete with Norfolk for the contract. Previously, only shipyards in the Norfolk-Hampton Roads-Newport News area were eligible to bid on those contracts. Bentley predicted Lehman's action could mean a significant amount of work for Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point shipyard.

The other two-thirds of repair and overhaul jobs for Norfolk-based ships will continue to be open to competitive bidding by all ports on the East Coast, officials said. The order covers only repairs and overhauls, not new ship construction, officials said.

The only major shipyard in Baltimore is the Sparrows Point facility. Its vice president for marine construction, David H. Klinges, said Lehman's order is "a most important step in improving the economic viability of the Port of Baltimore."

Klinges said Lehman's decision would increase employment in the Baltimore area, but added that it was too early to predict the extent of those benefits.