Letter – Public gets little input on risky Port 460 project

Published 2:45 pm Monday, July 25, 2022

To the Editor:

I’d like to begin by expressing my appreciation for the Suffolk News-Herald’s coverage of the major rezoning request for the huge Port 460 Logistics Center, and the citizen concerns being raised about that rezoning.

As a retired industrial engineer, industrial safety manager and environmental manager, I am dismayed to see that Suffolk is poised to rezone 500-plus acres on Route 460 from agricultural to heavy industrial use so the Port 460 Logistics Center can be built there.

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The center will bring with it a huge increase in tractor-trailer and auto traffic (with the accompanying air, water, and noise pollution), and more congestion and danger to a road long known to be too busy and too dangerous.

In 2005, VDOT reported that fatalities on Route 460 were 220% higher than on similar Virginia highways, and that tractor-trailers were involved in 50% of those fatalities. Since that time, the situation has only gotten worse. The Port 460 project will make it worse yet.

Planning for this ill-conceived project appears to have proceeded for the last several months, with no meaningful public input sought by either the developer or the city prior to bringing it up for a vote at the July 19 Suffolk Planning Commission meeting. Sadly, the commission was largely unmoved by the valid concerns of the hundreds who attended, or their request for more time for public review and input. In a split vote, the Commission sent the rezoning request to City Council for approval.

I expect this project, once built, to pose serious safety and environmental risks to its neighbors, and to anyone who regularly travels Route 460 through Suffolk. But alas, to this citizen it feels like the fix is in. I can only hope that our City Council will have the wisdom to un-fix it.

A big concern raised by citizens at the July 19 Planning Commission meeting is how planning of this massive project got so far downstream with essentially zero public awareness, or opportunity to provide input. During the July 20 City Council meeting, Councilman Tim Johnson (my new hero) described what happened at the July 19 Planning Commission meeting, spoke passionately about his disappointment in the lack of public (and City Council) awareness of the Port 460 project, and expressed his belief that the process for making such changes needs to be improved to provide for better public awareness and input. But later in the meeting, Mayor Duman responded that the city’s rezoning procedures require neither the rezoning applicant nor the city to make any citizen aware of the proposed change during its development, or to seek any citizen’s input regarding how the change might affect them, or the city. He said that the city’s process leaves the nature and extent of public engagement entirely up to the applicant, who may simply decide, “I think it’s a good idea, and I don’t need to talk to anybody.”

If that is truly my city’s process for balancing what a developer wants for himself versus what the people of Suffolk want for their city, then I agree with Mr. Johnson – the process needs to be changed, and the sooner the better. A project of the size, scope and potential impact of the Port 460 Logistics Center should not be allowed to be developed under cover of darkness.

 

Mike Host

Suffolk