News Column

Tumultuous Year for Virginia Ports

Jan. 18, 2013

Michael Welles Shapiro

At this time in 2012, few would have predicted the amount of upheaval at Virginia's ports.

At Hampton Roads Global Commerce Council's state of the ports lunch, Virginia International Terminals' vice president of administration and financial services Regina Brayboy reached back to the days of ancient Greece for a comparison: "It was as if Pandora had once again slipped off her box and unleashed all manner of calamities on the world."

For one thing, a privatization process has put the Virginia Port Authority and its state-formed operator VIT under a microscope with state officials trying to see if the current setup is the best option for the state. On top of that, labor talks with dockworkers have broken down repeatedly, and a Hurricane led to a brief shutdown of local terminals. Finally, VPA's former executive director Jerry Bridges left his post suddenly and on Tuesday VIT CEO and president Joe Dorto announced he plans to retire at the end of March.

Dorto was the guest speaker at Wednesday's luncheon, and he used the event to make some predictions: Container volumes could grow 6 percent, he said, and "if we hit 6 percent I'll be very happy."

Virginia's container volumes grew 9.8 percent in 2012, outpacing all other East Coast ports, but Dorto said he would be surprised to see VIT maintain that high of a rate two years in a row.

The question on everyone's minds -- whether a private terminal operator will be tapped to replace VIT -- Dorto said he couldn't answer.

"I have no idea," he said, but "I think myself and the VIT people and the VPA people have done everything we can to put this operation ... in the best possible position to be considered to continue as the operator."

The process has been contentious, and Dorto said it has been a distraction at times. But, he said, "Virginia owes it to itself to take a look at the bids to make sure they do have the best deal."

And he said some consultant studies done as part of the current evaluation identified needed improvements that he embraces, particularly the consolidations of certain VIT and VPA departments.

"Do you need two accounting departments? Do you need two human resources departments? How can that be efficient?" he asked.

Jeffrey D. Wassmer, a VPA commissioner from Newport News, also announced at the event that the board intends to nominate on Tuesday VIT executive vice president and chief operating officer Joe Ruddy to replace Dorto.

Perdue at Portsmouth Marine Terminal?

Perdue AgriBusiness is eyeing the state's mostly vacant Portsmouth Marine Terminal as a site for a grain export facility.

State Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Todd Haymore told the Daily Press Wednesday that his staff has been in talks with the grain giant, which already operates a deep-water grain port in Chesapeake.

"We're working, my staff and I, with Perdue Agribusiness on a number of export and development opportunities," Haymore said.

The Virginian-Pilot reported on discussions between Perdue and the state Wednesday. A Perdue spokeswoman told the paper talks were in the preliminary stages and that the company was also considering other export sites on the East Coast.


Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2013 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

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