Truckers: Port deal would hurt

Published 10:23 pm Monday, October 22, 2012

APM Terminals has sought to ease concerns Suffolk logistics businesses would be disadvantaged if it wins a 48-year contract to operate the Port of Virginia.

But some local trucking companies are not so sure.

Edward O’Callaghan, president of Suffolk-based trucking firm Century Express, is a board member for the Coalition for Virginia’s Port and president of the Tidewater Motor Truck Association.

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Speaking as the association president, he said that when APM, a unit of Danish shipping giant Maersk, operated its terminal in Portsmouth, APM Terminals Virginia, truckers were stymied by inadequate gate hours.

“They were completely insensitive to the needs of the trucking community,” O’Callaghan said. “This is not an emotional issue, it’s factual.

“When APM operated their facility … terminal gate times for drivers to be served were extremely restrictive” compared to under current operator Virginia International Terminals, which is competing for the port against APM and another group, RREEF America LLC.

O’Callaghan thinks jobs will be lost.

“In the Suffolk area, the main effect would be on truck (driving) jobs,” he said. “If a truck may no longer be profitable due to having less truck moves per day, the trucker may have to find another occupation.”

John Crowley, its senior vice president, said APM Terminals has said it would work with logistics companies and others “to achieve the best-performing port complex,” and “looks forward to doing that in the future.”

He said he would be “happy to sit down with Ed and work through some of those details.”

Crowley cited APM’s $540-million investment in the Portsmouth facility — ownership of which would go the state under the company’s proposal — as proof of its support for the region, adding that the company would “double down with additional construction.”

APM is also committed to bolstering Suffolk and the rest of Virginia by supporting the spread of port-related jobs in distribution and light manufacturing, he said.

O’Callaghan, meanwhile, praises VIT for being quick to listen to truck drivers and extend gate hours when it took over operations at APMT about two years ago.

The introduction of a chassis pool “further quickened turnaround” for truckers, he said.

“I encourage (the) VPA and the secretary of transportation to immediately reject the bid from APM, to once again assume operation of the facility.”

Speaking as a board member for the coalition, which has not outright rejected privatizing port operations, O’Callaghan thinks the General Assembly should have a bigger role in deciding whether the state goes with a new port operator.

“There is an outside chance that the General Assembly will become a direct decision maker,” he said.

He also said that many businesses that rely on the port are loath to speak out, because, when the dust settles, they will have to work with whoever wins.

“There are quite a few businesses that are involved in logistics and transportation who are unable to take one position or the other.”