Upgrades planned for Virginia ports

John Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, addresses state and local officials at the Warren County Government Center on Thursday. Reinhart gave an update on the status of Virginia's ports. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Improvements and expansions are planned for Virginia’s ports, including the Virginia Inland Port in Warren County.

A presentation on the state of the ports was given Thursday to state and local officials at the Warren County Government Center by Virginia Port Authority CEO and Executive Director John F. Reinhart.

Reinhart said there are several planned updates and expansions to ports in Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth and the Virginia Inland Port. Reports also were given on the prosperity of Virginia’s ports, which last year experienced 9 percent growth, and addressed industry issues, including lack of investment, shifts in trade patterns, increasing ship sizes and the ability to serve discretionary markets, such as the automobile industry.

Reinhart said a planned rail expansion at the Virginia Inland Port is necessary as a result of increased throughput due to increased volume at ports statewide.

Joe Harris, senior director of communications and spokesperson for the Virginia Port Authority, said the ports need to increase capacity.

Tricia Stile, left, legislative assistant to Sen. Jill Vogel, Jennifer R. McDonald, executive director of the Warren County Economic Development Authority, Mary Beth Price, Shenandoah County Administrator, and Conrad Helsley, right, chairman of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors, listen as John Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, discusses the state of Virginia's ports on Thursday morning. Rich Cooley/Daily

“This past year we set a record [in volume], but that record pretty much puts us at our ceiling so we’ve got to increase capacity,” he said. “The reason we hit the ceiling is because we didn’t adequately invest in years past. We did what was necessary to maintain the terminals, but didn’t necessarily prepare for growth.”

Three other ports discussed at length included the Richmond Marine Terminal, the Norfolk International Terminals and the Virginia International Gateway in Portsmouth.

Richmond Marine Terminal, a 121-acre facility on the banks of the James River, has experienced quite a lot of recent growth. The property is owned by the city of Richmond and the city leases it to the Virginia Port Authority. This year, a new lease was signed, securing the location for another 40 years. The port was also the beneficiary of $600,000 in rail improvements, and a new $4.2 million harbor crane. Also, 10 ocean carriers have added Richmond Marine Terminal to the list of ports they call upon throughout the world. These ships are significant, according to Harris, who says that list of ocean carriers will grow.

Norfolk International Terminal will receive a $350 million dollar investment to increase density at the terminal. The $350 million has been approved by the General Assembly and will be bestowed pending the governor’s approval. The investment will raise container capacity by 400,000 containers to roughly 1.2 million. The port’s cargo yard will be reconfigured and new equipment will be needed.

Also scheduled for improvement is the Virginia International Gateway in Portsmouth. A two-phase plan is in the works that would include nearly doubling its container capacity from 650,000 to 1.2 million, expanding its rail capacity and berth and adding four new ship-to-shore cranes. The cost is $320 million. The port authority does not own the gateway, and the expansion is pending owner approval.

Port authority officials said they are excited about these plans.

“It shows the world in general that Virginia is in the game and that we’re expanding,” said Harris. “We know what the future looks like and we know to handle it.”

He explained that ports do more for the economy than people think.

“Across the state [in 2015], the port was responsible for 375,000 jobs – indirect, direct and induced,” he said. “The port was also responsible for over $60 billion in annual revenues. This is a significant economic engine for the state and our job is to continue to add cylinders to that engine. These funds will give us plenty of extra horsepower.”

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com