VIT supporters defend record running Va. ports

NORFOLK, Va. -- Virginia International Terminals Inc. defended its record as the operator for the Virginia Port Authority on Thursday, saying its past success is irrefutable.

The authority held a public hearing Thursday to discuss proposals to privatize much of the Port of Virginia's operations. Three companies have submitted proposals to the state to run its terminals for the next 48 to 50 years with the potential revenue for the state estimated to be more than $3 billion.

But hundreds of people packed an auditorium at the museum Nauticus to express support for the current operator, including representatives from shipping lines who worry that allowing a single private entity to operate the state's ports could put others at a competitive disadvantage. The state created Virginia International Terminals in 1983.

"VIT's sole duty is to that of the citizens of the commonwealth. Private operators, their sole duty is to that of shareholders. VIT promotes Virginia and Virginia only," said Joseph Ruddy, executive vice president for Virginia International Terminals.

The state Department of Transportation issued a request for alternative proposals in May after APM Terminals submitted an unsolicited one.

Eric Sicsco, president of APM Terminals Americas Region, dismissed concerns about a single company operating the port by noting that about 15 percent of roughly the top 150 terminals in the world are operated by a sole operator.

"This is not unusual at all," he said.

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.

"We have a vision for the port that we think we can help you achieve," Sisco said.

However Ruddy also noted container growth has improved in the past six months. He also said that's part of a long track record of success. When VIT took over in 1983, the Port of Virginia was the 30th largest in the country. Today it is the sixth largest in the U.S.

"VIT's historical record of success as a terminal operator is irrefutable with regard to container growth, safety and intermodal market share," Ruddy said.

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.

While each of the companies and VIT have submitted general proposals that are viewable online, they each have until Nov. 1 to submit more detailed plans. The port authority board will be updated on the proposal process on Nov. 27.


Brock Vergakis can be reached at