RICHMOND FACES BATTLE FOR FUNDS FOR DOCK PROJECT VA. AGENCY PUTS CAVEAT ON GRANT

RICHMOND FACES BATTLE FOR FUNDS FOR DOCK PROJECT VA. AGENCY PUTS CAVEAT ON GRANT

Call it the War of the Wall.

The Port of Richmond, Va., and the state's port agency are going to battle over $6 million in funds for a dock wall project the little port has planned for its facilities on the James River.That's what the battle is about. The war, however, concerns broader matters: Richmond's desire to become a bigger player in the cargo market and its refusal to enter into the state stable of port facilities.

Richmond operates independently of the Virginia Port Authority - the state unit that controls port facilities in Norfolk, Portsmouth and Newport News, Va. Itrecently refused an offer to join that group of state-controlled ports.

Nevertheless, Richmond still receives funds through a state port aid program administered by the Virginia Port Authority. The quest for state funds while rejecting state control is causing friction in the state.

"This battle with the state has become all-consuming and the focus of getting new business for the port is being lost," said Stanley Payne, vice president of Meehan Overseas Terminals Inc. - Richmond's stevedore company.

The heat has focused on Richmond's dock wall project. The port thought it had about $6 million of state funds devoted to the project. The state port authority, however, has suddenly put a caveat on that grant.

In a recent exchange of letters between state port officials and Richmond port executives, the state port agency said Richmond would have to prove how the project would help the port's long-term business. The state agency added that it would hire a consultant to see how the $6 million could best be spent at Richmond.

"Why we can't get the money that was allocated to us is beyond my comprehension," said Ed Lordly, a Richmond Port Commission member, at a hastily called March 2 meeting.

"Why should we accept this scheme of theirs?" said Carolyn Wake, another

commission member.

The Richmond commission members voted to stand by their dock wall project and to demand to be included in any state review of the port's business plans.

Richmond, which has experienced an increase in traffic over the last few years, thinks it needs added dock wall to make more room for business and

allow for repairs to the existing pier.

But the state port authority believes the $6 million in dock wall funds might be put to better use on other projects in the port, especially since another competitor, the Chesapeake Port Authority, is expected to enter the area freight market soon.

"They (Richmond officials) steadfastly refuse to be constructive," Robert Bray, executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, said in a brief telephone interview.

The state agency's position has the support of Meehan.

Mr. Payne, speaking at the Richmond commission meeting, said he "didn't see any input" from industry in the dock wall plan and that Richmond could come up with some more cost-efficient options with the state funds.

Mr. Payne can be considered a primary casualty of the War of the Wall. In an interview he said he would be leaving the port.

"I was spending a lot of time arguing with commission staff toilet by toilet and pothole by pothole over who was going to make repairs," Mr. Payne said.