Snow hits port cargo

Published 7:54 pm Monday, March 16, 2015

Totals for the fiscal year to date are running 7.3 percent ahead, but the snowstorms and bitter cold impacted Port of Virginia cargo volumes in February, according to the Virginia Port Authority.

In a news release, authority spokesman Joe Harris said last month’s inclement weather had a “significant effect” on productivity and volume at the port.

The 178,105 TEUs (20-foot equivalent containers) for the month was a 1-percent decline compared to February 2014, according to Harris.

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Snowstorms on President’s Day ad Feb. 25 caused five vessels and nearly 7,000 containers to slip to the month of March, he stated. Without those interruptions, TEU volume would have been 5.8 percent ahead of last year.

“The weather we had in February forced us to close for nearly four days, and that had a direct negative impact on every phase of our operation: gates, vessels and rail,” stated John F. Reinhart, the authority’s CEO and executive director.

“Following resumption of operations, we were still contending with bitter cold

and icy conditions that hampered productivity.

“It was a tough month, and it has been expensive to mitigate the weather and closures. We are focusing on regaining our operating tempo to improve flow at the gates and velocity at the rail and vessel operations.”

Drilling down, February’s total for rail containers was down 9 percent; Virginia Inland Port volume was down 5.5 percent; and barge containers were down 21 percent.

But truck volumes were still strong, Reinhart said — up 4.4 percent in February, despite the weather.

“That is testament to the motor carriers, the job done by the operating and maintenance team to get the terminals cleared and ready for operations and to our labor partners for getting the job done in tough conditions,” Reinhart stated.

“The cargo volume is still trending higher and we have to improve service quickly with the improved weather conditions.”

Meanwhile, a $141.8 million bond sale was completed last week, the authority reports. The market received the port facilities revenue refunding bonds, sold in two series — one tax-exempt and the other taxable — favorably, Harris stated, with more than $400 million worth of orders placed.

The sale will help the authority reduce its debt costs and “realize significant savings,” Reinhart stated.

Just prior to the sale, Fitch upgraded its long-term rating for the authority’s outstanding port facilities revenue bonds to A+ with a stable rating.

“Three of the leading international bond rating agencies affirmed the strength of our bonds and show faith in our plan for growing the port in a consistent, sustainable manner over the years to come,” Reinhart stated.