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State of the port ‘is strong’

Six years ago, the Port of Virginia was in trouble, with its equipment and facility suffering from a lack of investment while other ports put money into theirs.

Port Executive Director John Reinhart said in an Oct. 1 virtual state of the port address — his last state of the port address before he retires in March 2021 — that it took re-establishing trust with its partners, stakeholders and customers, but said what is happening now is more troublesome that what it has already overcome.

“The challenges we’re facing today are, in many ways, more serious than those we overcame before,” Reinhart said.

He said trade wars around the world were stressing supply chains even before the coronavirus pandemic.

As COVID-19 spread around the world, “we found ways to find opportunity in adversity. We used the slower periods on our terminals to repair or replace equipment, so we were 100% ready when the volumes returned.”

Reinhart said the port’s infrastructure projects remain on schedule and on budget.

“It has been a monumental task maintaining the continuity of our operations,” Reinhart said, “while simultaneously moving forward on critical infrastructure projects and ensuring a safe work environment for the port team, our labor partners and the motor carriers that carry nearly two-thirds of the cargo to and from our terminals on a daily basis.”

Though cargo volumes fell at the Port of Virginia, they have picked back up and in September, they set a new record high for the month, with 5,873 more containers than September 2019, four months after the port’s cargo volumes had experienced a 23% year-over-year decline in cargo volumes.

“It’s good to see the continued volume coming back,” Reinhart said.

Cargo by barge grew 9%, while Richmond Marine Terminal volume grew more than 22%. While barge business represents 4% of the port’s business, Reinhart said it is growing exponentially and helping to spark growth in Richmond.

“Even in this down market, our customers continue to see the value in the barge service,” Reinhart said, “and fueled a 14% growth year-over-year, in last year’s volumes.”

It focused on putting together a COVID-19 response team that guided the port’s operations as the pandemic was taking root, and it prioritized delivering medical supplies through its COVID-19 Critical Cargo Initiative.

He said by 2024, dredging at the port will take it to 55 feet deep and up to 1,400 feet wide, “giving us fast, safe, non-tide restricted, non-height restricted, two-way vessel traffic for the largest container vessels calling America.”

The port updated its mission in July to note that the port “delivers opportunity by driving business to, and through, the Commonwealth.”

Reinhart noted the port’s solidarity with the Black community in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. He said the port recently launched its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative, in which port staff underwent a pair of training sessions.

He praised the port’s workers and partners in their efforts to ensure smooth operations during the pandemic.

“A successful port requires collaboration, infrastructure, modern technology, systems and people working together to achieve success,” Reinhart said. “This is exactly what we have achieved together and we have been building upon for seven years. It is a strong foundation for the future success of the Port of Virginia, for the Commonwealth, for our communities and for all the businesses across Virginia.”

In his last state of the port address, he thanked his wife of more than 46 years, Mary, who he noted has “worked for you without pay.”

“The state of the port is strong,” Reinhart said. “We’ve built a modern, competitive port, which will continue to grow. We’ve built the economy, and we have the capacity for the future. The Port of Virginia is a world-class port, and we are open for business.”