Officials quiet on port privatization

The Warren Sentinel
FRONT ROYAL – Officials with Virginia International Terminals were mum Wednesday about the possible impact of plans to privatize operations at Virginia's port terminals during a meeting at the Virginia Inland Port.
Cary Hagen, director of sales in North America for Virginia International Terminals, the private nonstock company that currently runs Virginia's port terminals, said VIT is “caught in the middle of it,” referring to proposals by two private companies to run the port terminals.
Hagen said VIT employees have been advised by management to refer questions to the Virginia Port Authority's public relations office or to the Virginia Maritime Association's website, where information and comments on the proposals are posted.
“I wish I could say more,” Hagen said.
In April, the state received an unsolicited proposal from APM Terminals, a division of the global shipping company Maersk, to take over operations at some or all of Virginia's port terminals. RREEF America LLC, a Deutsche Bank subsidiary, has also submitted a proposal to run the ports.
VIT has submitted a plan to continue running the ports. All of the companies' proposals aim to save the state billions over the next 48 to 50 years.
One of the groups that had expressed interest in running Virginia's ports, the Carlyle Group of Washington, has withdrawn its offer, according to recent news reports.
Virginia's Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton was quoted in an article Tuesday in the Richmond Times-Dispatch saying the operation of Virginia's state-owned port facilities is financially unsustainable, with the state subsidizing the Virginia Port Authority's operations by $60 to $70 million a year.
But at a September meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board in Winchester, Connaughton said the Virginia Inland Port, located at 7685 Winchester Road north of Front Royal in Warren County, may not be included in any deal the state strikes with a private company to run its ports.
The inland port is currently staffed by VIT employees, including terminal manager Stan Crockett, who briefed members of the Virginia Inland Port Advisory Committee on operations there during the group's Wednesday meeting.
All of the freight that comes through the inland port is intermodal, which means it is shipped overseas. Products are transported in container boxes to and from the inland port by rail and truck. Top customers of the inland port include Red Bull, Home Depot, Interchange and Mercury Paper.
Crockett said trucks that come through the inland port generally have only a 20-minute turnaround time to complete their pickup or drop off, which is helpful to drivers.
Asked whether he anticipates six-day a week rail service to the inland port soon, Crockett said it seems unlikely.
“The market is going to have to drive that and we just have not reached whatever threshhold is necessary for Norfolk Southern to want to run a six-day schedule,” Crockett said.
He added that the inland port has been working toward upholding high environmental standards, completing an 18-month process to become certified by Environmental Management Systems.
“We're actually quite proud of that,” Crockett said.
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