More challenges for port

Published 10:20 pm Friday, August 31, 2012

As major operational changes loom and longshoremen plan to strike, the Port of Virginia has been thrown a major curve ball with the departure of the port authority’s executive director.

Jerry Bridges’ tenure will end on Oct. 31, the Virginia Port Authority Board of Commissioners announced in a press release Friday.

The board credits Bridges with restructuring the state agency, which owns four port facilities in Virginia and operates five, and overseeing its lease of APM Terminals, located just across the Suffolk line in Portsmouth.


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Bridges also became chairman of the board of the American Association of Port Authorities and has served on various other industry boards.

Specifically why Bridges is leaving is unclear. He did not return calls for comment.

In a phone interview, board Chair Michael Quillen said: “I think it’s more a personal situation for Jerry and his family.

“He’s given us adequate notice. I do know he’s just gotten engaged. I’m not sure, he may be relocating.”

An announcement on an interim executive director is due soon, the release stated. Quillen said that a permanent replacement for Bridges will not be appointed until the role is redefined after the dust settles on a four-way contest to operate the port.

After the state earlier in 2012 received an unsolicited proposal from Maersk subsidiary APM under its Public-Private Transportation Act, two more groups, Carlyle Infrastructure Partners, L.P., an infrastructure investment unit of the Carlyle Group, and RREEF America L.L.C., part of the Deutsche Bank Group, also lodged proposals.

Rounding out the four, Virginia International Terminals, a nonprofit, nonstock, private corporation established by the state, is also making its case to continue operating the port.

In a separate press release, the authority said preparations are under way for a possible stoppage of port workers from Oct. 1.

Wage negotiations between the International Longshoreman’s Association, which represents longshoremen on the East Coast and elsewhere, and the United States Maritime Alliance have reportedly ended without a deal.

The plan is to “do everything we can to ensure that all cargo is delivered prior to Oct. 1,” VIT President Joseph A. Dorto stated in the release.

“When we resume operations, VIT will do all possible to ensure our customers are taken care of in a timely and efficient manner. The goal is to maintain a high level of service to our customers so that there is minimal disruption to their business.”

Dorto believes port customers will “immediately” plan to shift 10-15 percent of their cargo to West Coast ports, saying the effect will not be felt locally until October as vessels currently en route to Virginia will not divert.

A long-running work stoppage stalling shipments through the port would prove devastating for Suffolk’s economy, which relies heavily on distribution and warehouse facilities.

Quillen noted that a West Coast labor dispute several years ago resulted in the relocation of businesses. “We hope it gets resolved without any disruption,” he added.

The authority and VIT have scheduled a meeting for next week for port stakeholders to discuss the labor situation and seek input on possible courses of action.