Editorial – Much work needed before Port 460 vote

Published 8:16 pm Friday, August 19, 2022

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Suffolk’s City Council acted wisely Wednesday to delay a decision on the Port 460 warehouse project.

There’s nowhere close to enough consensus among elected officials or especially citizen support to plow forward with a project that will irrevocably alter life as we know it for a big chunk of the city. It was telling to us that, during a really long public hearing, the only Suffolk people to speak in favor of the project were a hired attorney and the landowner.

With due respect to the project’s Maryland developers and the Port of Virginia, which loves Suffolk for its geography, highways and vast open space for future warehouses, this is an issue that needs to be hashed out within the family, so to speak. There’s a time to be a team player for Hampton Roads, and there’s a time to look out for your own interests. In this case, Suffolk must take care of itself.

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Thirty days is likely insufficient, but we see the following as essential should elected leadership still have interest in pursuing the project:

  • Independent, third-party assessments of traffic, economic and environmental impact. While we appreciate the developer’s efforts on these fronts, the broken trust between the citizenry and the city — as so eloquently described by Councilman Tim Johnson during Wednesday night’s meeting — will render any information provided by or paid for by the developer or landowner as useless.
  • A town hall-style meeting in which more citizens are given an opportunity to speak. Even with an extension of the time normally allotted for comments during public hearing, the comment period Wednesday night was insufficient. If the city itself cannot sponsor such a meeting, perhaps a Suffolk civic organization could step up as the convener.
  • A firmer commitment from the Port of Virginia and Virginia Department of Transportation for the infrastructure improvements that will be required on several major thoroughfares. The Port of Virginia’s vague pledge of support and the developer’s and landowner’s proffers to date are nice but insufficient. Mayor Mike Duman is on the right track in pressing for more specifics on what Suffolk can expect.

We keep an open mind as the extended process unfolds. We’d also like to hear more from Suffolk business and civic leaders — unelected and with no connection to the project — about why it’s a good thing, on balance, for the community. Their silence has been deafening.

We’d also like to hear more from the three council members who said nothing Wednesday night when the collective eyes of Suffolk were watching. We can only conclude that a motion to approve or deny the project would have failed, further proof that city leaders are far from the consensus needed to make a decision in Suffolk’s best interest.