Fair is fair

Published 9:37 pm Monday, August 10, 2009

When CenterPoint Properties made an unsolicited offer in March to partner with the Virginia Port Authority and lease the state’s port facilities in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News and Front Royal for 60 years, the proposal kicked off an increasingly popular process authorized by the Virginia Public-Private Transportation Act.

The act encourages private development of public facilities by allowing companies to propose solutions to infrastructure needs without having been asked to do so. When a proposal is delivered — as in the case of CenterPoint’s ports proposal — the state must allow other companies to offer competitive submissions for similar projects. After the deadline passes for all proposals, the state must then examine all of the submissions and choose to continue the competitive process, select a single proposal as the winner or reject all of the submissions.

The process has resulted in a variety of quality projects that have benefitted people across Virginia. Regarding the ports proposal, at the very least it will spur an important discussion of how Virginia should manage the incredible natural and manmade resources represented by its ports.

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CenterPoint’s plan for a sprawling intermodal commerce park in Suffolk would benefit mightily from the addition of port operations to the company’s portfolio. And the company’s executives showed commendable vision when they submitted the plan that kicked off the recent PPTA process. But their post-deadline request to change the proposal by adding another partner — though spun in the media as a way to improve the strength of their submission — raises questions not only about whether the proposal was ready for prime time, but also whether the company has the fiscal stability it needs to take so many bold steps into Virginia.

Even aside from such questions, though, the Virginia Ports Authority was right to deny CenterPoint’s request to amend its proposal, as the deadline for such amendments already had passed. Allowing one submitter to make changes — especially in light of the fact that CenterPoint could have postponed its initial submission until it was truly ready — would have been unfair to the companies that developed their proposals under the tight deadlines of the PPTA.

The Authority must evaluate the proposals as they stand. Fair is fair, after all.