Expansion to begin at Norfolk port Baltimore officials downplay threat

June 04, 1991|By John H. Gormley Jr.

Construction will start in July on a $90 million expansion of cargo-handling facilities in Norfolk, Va., a project the Virginia Port Authority hopes will eliminate congestion and improve Norfolk's ability to compete with the port of Baltimore.

"We have a clear path to begin construction. All the red tape has been unraveled," Linda Ford, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Port Authority, said yesterday.

The final permits were acquired last week, she said. One of the biggest issues involved wetlands that would be destroyed by the new terminal. The VPA has reached an agreement under which it will create new wetlands to replace the ones on the terminal site.

The project, due for completion at the end of 1994, would include three new cranes, berthing space for a ship and a barge, and 56 acres of storage space for containers. The highly modern terminal facilities would help Virginia counter Maryland's claims that the new Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore is the most modern and efficient container terminal on the East Coast.

In the last decade, the three Virginia ports of Hampton Roads at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay have experienced rapid growth, displacing Baltimore as the most important port in the mid-Atlantic states. General cargo at the ports of Hampton Roads has more than doubled, from about 3 million tons in 1984 to 7.2 million last year. During the same period, the port of Baltimore has seen its general cargo decline from 7 million tons to just over 5 million tons lastyear.

Port officials in Baltimore are hopeful that a more stable labor climate in Baltimore, combined with the attractions of the Seagirt, will allow the port to arrest its decline and re-establish its ability to compete with Hampton Roads.

Baltimore will have at least 3 1/2 years to show what it can do before Virginia will be able to offer its customers an expanded and modernized Norfolk terminal.

Maurice C. Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc., said that he does not think the Virginia expansion will affect the port of Baltimore, now or when it is completed.

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