VIRGINIA PORT AUTHORITY IS ON A ROLL BREAKS 10 MILLION-TON MARK FOR 1ST TIME

VIRGINIA PORT AUTHORITY IS ON A ROLL BREAKS 10 MILLION-TON MARK FOR 1ST TIME

For the first time in its history, the Virginia Port Authority in 1997 handled more than 10 million tons of general cargo in a single calendar year.

E. Massie Valentine Jr., the VPA board chairman, told commissioners that overall cargo for 1997 was 10.7 million tons, an 11.5 percent increase over 1996.Containerized cargo, alone, eclipsed the 10 million-ton mark, reaching a level of 10.1 million tons for the year, Mr. Valentine said. That represented an 11.9 percent increase over 1996.

Breakbulk cargo rose 6 percent, to less than 650,000 tons, breaking ''a trend of declines over the last several years,'' the chairman said.

Recalling the words of a local academician who recently had studied the contribution VPA terminals make to Virginia's economy, Mr. Valentine called the port ''an incredible growth engine whose potential has just scratched the surface of opportunity.''

VPA officials see the ball continuing to roll in 1998. They project growth of an additional 5 percent this year.

Mr. Valentine's remarks included laudatory words for J. Robert Bray, the VPA's executive director who celebrated his 30th year at the port in 1997.

Mr. Valentine told Mr. Bray, ''There is no doubt that the Port of Virginia's tremendous growth and success is a result of your strong leadership and the work of the professional team that you lead at the port.''

Topping the list of exports from VPA terminals in 1997 were logs and lumber, paper and paperboard, wood pulp, tobacco and auto parts.

For imports, the leading commodities were tobacco, auto engines, natural rubber, paper and construction equipment.

The key market for the port was Europe, followed by Northeast Asia, South America and the Mediterranean.

Caribbean trade, a relatively small chunk of the port's traffic, doubled in 1997, to 20,789 tons.

In other vital statistics, container traffic at the Virginia inland port, located at Front Royal, Va., rose 3.3 percent. Vessel calls increased 2.3 percent, in 1997 to a total of 1,863.