Port expansion coming

Published 9:32 pm Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Several of the commonwealth’s heavy hitters were in attendance at Virginia International Gateway on Wednesday for an announcement that will result in a major expansion of the port.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the Port of Virginia has signed a new, long-term lease for the Virginia International Gateway. The agreement will result in a doubling of the facility’s carrying capacity, to 1.2 million containers annually, within three years, according to a Port of Virginia press release.

The lease is also expected to create an additional 166,000 jobs across the state.

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“You’ve heard me say it before — Virginia is the greatest state in the greatest country in the world,” McAuliffe said. “And today’s announcement is another step forward in making the Port of Virginia the greatest port on the East Coast.”

McAuliffe said the new lease, scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 1, will expire on Dec. 31, 2065. The extended lease will allow Virginia International Gateway to begin work on a $320-million expansion, which will include a longer berth, an expanded rail operation, an expanded container yard and four new ship-to-shore cranes, according to a Port of Virginia press release.

The Virginia Port Authority is six years into a 20-year lease with VIG, but the “re-stated lease” was shaped to complement the port’s new vision for the future, according to John Reinhart, chief executive officer and executive director of the VPA.

“We believe that the continued investment in people, technology and those capacity projects being undertaken here during the next three to four years are positioning the Port of Virginia to become the U.S. East Coast’s premiere port,” Reinhart said.

In August, the state announced it would invest $350 million into the Norfolk International Terminals, which is the port’s primary container terminal. Additionally, the port is nearing completion of the 26-lane North Gate complex at the terminal, which will provide more motor carrier access, according to a Port of Virginia press release.

In the past, a portion of the port authority’s rent was based on the volume of units going through the terminal. The governor affirmed the volume rent would be eliminated.

For several years, the port was in the red due to failed investments, according to McAuliffe.

“Years of insufficient investment, which allowed our East Coast competitors to catch up and pass us, have turned into focused efforts for the port to take control of its destiny,” he said.

McAuliffe, Virginia Port Authority representatives and public officials are optimistic about the port’s future.

“Years of losses have turned into two consecutive years of record volumes and a return to profitability,” McAuliffe said. “The Port of Virginia’s preliminary reports for the fiscal year 2016 indicate that it will post an annual operating income of nearly $4.76 million — surpassing the budget by over $2 million, and completing its second consecutive fiscal year of profitability.”

Virginia International Gateway, which sits on the Elizabeth River, off Route 164 and just across the Suffolk line in Portsmouth, is Portsmouth’s largest taxpayer, according to Kenny Wright, the city’s mayor.

“We are excited, and we want to see all the details,” Wright said. “It’s beneficial for all of us. We want to make sure we protect our tax base.”