Va. maritime interests criticize port privatization

RICHMOND, Va. — The potential outsourcing of Virginia’s port operations will hurt maritime businesses and local governments, speakers told a state legislative panel Monday.

Virginia officials are considering four proposals to take over the operation of some of the state’s port terminals. Officials on Friday pushed back the deadline until Nov. 1 for more detailed proposals from the interested companies.

The Port of Virginia is the third-largest port on the East Coast, but state officials have been frustrated that it hasn’t rebounded from the recession as quickly as its competitors in New York and Savannah, Ga., have.

The state’s marine terminals are “critical to the economic well-being” of Virginia, Art Moye, executive vice president of the Virginia Maritime Association, told the House Appropriations Committee on Monday. The group represents 400 companies with 70,000 employees.

Moye said more than 70 percent of the group’s members are against the plans and are concerned about the impacts of port privatization on their business and the Port of Virginia’s future, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

“It seems to me very important to have stakeholder buy-in on this,” said Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William. But, he said, “We’re not even close.”

Members of the legislature also have criticized the pace in which the state is considering the proposals, calling it too aggressive for a significant business decision. But State Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton has said the port’s customers “are telling us to make a decision.”

The state Department of Transportation issued a request for alternative proposals in May following an unsolicited one by APM Terminals, a division of global shipping company Maersk.

This isn’t the first time private companies have taken an interest in operating the state’s ports. In 2009, three companies submitted proposals, at least one of which was valued at $3.5 billion.

The state declined to accept those offers. The state is under no obligation to accept any submitted proposals this time, either.