The Port of Baltimore lost ground to its archrival, the port of Norfolk, during the first quarter of 1985, new statistics show.

Figures released Thursday by the Maryland Port Administration show Baltimore registered only a 1.6 percent gain in general cargo during the first three months of this year. Norfolk posted a 37.7 percent cargo gain over the same period.

This "certainly reflects the very strong competitive nature of business during this period of improving business climate," said MPA spokesman Donald Klein.

Klein added, "It's only the first quarter. There's no reason to push the panic button. . . . We hope to see more progress as the year goes on."

Over the past year, four steamship lines have announced plans to shift at least part of their operations from Baltimore to Norfolk.

However, Baltimore still leads Norfolk in absolute tonnage, handling 1.45 million tons of cargo during the first three months of the year, compared to the Virginia port's 1.06 million tons.

"We still have, in an absolute sense, about 45 percent more general cargo," Klein said.

Eastern States Exploration Co., a privately owned, natural gas drilling operator based in Alexandria, has won a contract for an undisclosed sum to supply Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania with natural gas for 10 years, according to President and Chief Executive Officer Ralph Bradley.

Under the agreement, Eastern States will provide up to 4 billion cubic feet of gas per year, enough to satisfy the needs of a city with a population of 100,000. The contract is one of the largest purchases of Pennsylvania-produced natural gas in recent years, Bradley said.

The gas supply is from a large, contiguous natural gas field discovered in Centre County, Pennsylvania, and developed by Eastern States. To date, Eastern States has drilled about 100 wells in the area.

Eastern States has committed about $12 million annually to new drilling operations -- the equivalent of about 50 new wells a year -- during the past two years. The company, which was formed in 1981, also has operations in Virginia and West Virginia.

Bradley said this contract has launched Eastern States on an "aggressive 10-year development program in Centre County." The company also has a contract with Texas Eastern Transmission Corp.

After a two-year delay, developers of a proposed coal-export terminal originally slated to handle 18 million tons of coal annually have decided to go ahead with a scaled-down version of the project.

The proposed terminal, a project of Portsmouth Properties Ltd., would have the capacity to load about 10 million tons of coal annually.

It would be the third new coal-pier complex built in Hampton Roads this decade, officials said. The pier will be built at a time when all four existing complexes in the area are operating at well below capacity.

Portsmouth Properties is planning to build the terminal on a 135-acre tract along the southern branch of the Elizabeth River.

Phillips Publishing Inc. of Bethesda has acquired Cellular Radio News, a local, 3 1/2-year-old biweekly newsletter on the burgeoning cellular radio industry and related fields. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Cellular Radio News, founded by Stuart Crump. Jr., will be merged with Mobile Phone News, a biweekly newsletter Phillips has published since 1983, the company said.

Phillips President Thomas L. Phillips called Cellular Radio News' coverage of the industry "excellent." The merged publications "will be able to bring our readers the finest, most thorough coverage of cellular radio and related industries," he said. Crump will serve as an editorial consultant and columnist with the new newsletter.

Phillips also publishes Industrial Communications, a 39-year-old weekly newsletter on land mobile radios, as well as 12 other newsletters on the communications industry.

Sutron Corp. completed a major contract with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration last week, with the delivery Tuesday of 67 Shipboard Environmental Data Acquisition Systems (Seas) to NOAA officials at a brief ceremony at the company's Herndon headquarters.

Seas is a data acquisition and transmission system that can send and receive data from ships to shore-based users almost immediately over the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite system. Seas equipment reports two types of information: meteorological data, such as wind speed and direction, air temperature and barometric pressure, and bathymetric data, such as ocean temperatures and currents.

The data is analyzed by meteorologists and ocean scientists at the National Weather Service, the National Ocean Data Center and the National Meteorological Center to generate historical data, construct weather models and develop marine weather forecasts. Sutron was the general contractor on the project, which was awarded in September and was worth more than $600,000. It worked closely on the project with Massachusetts-based Sippican Corp., which designed a probe that launched into the sea to gather bathymetric data.

Sutron is a water resources management firm that designs, manufactures and markets electronic systems that gather weather information, measure manufacturing processes and evaluate military exercises.