The Virginia Port Authority Board of Directors voted unanimously Tuesday to reject offers to privatize, instead favoring a reorganization of the agency and its operations.
The board’s action ends months of speculation over the future of the port after two private proposals to assume operations were submitted in 2011. Under two resolutions approved Tuesday, the board will streamlineVirginia International Terminals and bring the entity under more direct control by the port authority.
The changes will make the port more competitive, said board Chairman William Fralin.
“We will move forward as a stronger, leaner organization that is better-positioned to serve the ocean carriers and port customers, attract cargo to Virginia and be more accountable to Virginia taxpayers.”
The Virginia Port Authority owns ports in Norfolk, Portsmouth and Newport News, which collectively make up The Port of Virginia. They are operated by the nonprofit Virginia International Terminals, Inc., which was established in 1981 primarily as a mechanism to enter into contracts with union labor, which the state itself is prohibited from doing by law.
The Port of Virginia is the third largest and the deepest shipping channel on the East Coast, employing more than 340,000 people with an economic impact estimated at $41 billion annually. The port recorded its second-best year in history in cargo volume in 2012.
In a statement Tuesday, Virginia Maritime Association spokesman Art Moye said Tuesday the board’s action removed a cloud of uncertainty.
“We believe today’s decision by the VPA Board of Commissioners to build upon our existing model, rather than turning a port monopoly over to private interests, will position Virginia’s ports for even greater success,” said Moye, whose organization claims a membership of over 400 companies, employing more than 70,000 Virginians.
Virginia International Terminals Chief Executive Officer Joseph Dorto praised the board’s decision after the vote.
“I can now leave in peace,” said Dorto, who is retiring March 31. “The board has confidence in the current operation that it can be adjusted and tweaked a little bit.”
In making its decision, the board determined neither proposal submitted by APM Terminals and Virginia Port Partners “accurately reflected the potential net present value of the state’s terminals and revenue potential.”
In April 2011, Dutch operator APM Terminals submitted an unsolicited bid to run the port for 48 years. The state called for additional proposals and was left with three: the APM proposal, and bids from JP Morgan and Virginia International Terminals, which currently operates the port.
Soon afterward, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) called for a review of port operations to identify opportunities for growth. In January, a joint legislative committee issued a report that found the Port Authority “does not appear to be financially unsustainable” and “is positioned to generate a net profit during the next five years, particularly given the projected growth in cargo volume during the period.”
The report also noted that administrative expenses could be reduced by eliminating redundant functions between Virginia Port Authority and Virginia International Terminals and that port executives — specifically Dorto, who earned more than $754,000 in salary and bonus compensation in the last fiscal year — are compensated at higher levels than their peers at other U.S. ports.
McDonnell declined to immediately weigh in on the board’s decision, saying that he and Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton would need to first review the board’s actions before making a statement.