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Wednesday, July 24, 2013
As the last port director of the now endangered Port of New River Valley, I feel compelled to respond to the July 19 Roanoke Times article by Jacob Demmit, “S.W. Va. loses port of entry,” and the editorial of July 21, “A crucial asset in a global economy.”
First, I must clarify that the port has been around much longer than since 2006. The New River Valley Economic Development Alliance Inc., made up of representatives from several cities, towns and counties in the New River Valley and Roanoke areas, petitioned the government in 1997.
On Aug. 5, 1999, after a two-year effort, the New River Valley Airport was designated a “user fee airport.” The significant difference between “ports of entry” and “user fee airports” is that at user fee airports (which are functionally equivalent to ports of entry), the federal government is reimbursed by the community (or airport authority) for the costs associated with customs services. The designation of user fee airport was changed to official port of entry, effective May 19, 2006, and the Port of New River Valley (then changed to Port #1412) was made the 325th official port of entry in the U.S.
This was a tremendous accomplishment by the alliance and certainly not something often granted. I worked very hard at researching the history, procedures and time lines involved with previous port of entry applications around the country and was able to convince the alliance that it should apply. It happened, and now you are on the verge of losing it all.
The two articles above did a fine job of describing the value of the port in an area ever increasingly competing in the global market. What was not mentioned is the full range of services often performed by the office, such as registering articles taken out of the country by individuals and companies alike, registering foreign titled vehicles now staying in the U.S., offering a Customs Border Patrol Officer’s training and sophisticated radiation detection equipment to local and state law enforcement agencies in the event of a terrorist act or other type of catastrophe, etc.
Just ask Allegheny Logistics Group, a customs broker right next door to the port office, about the huge number of exports it facilitates each week, as well as the expert service it performs with imports. Those export stats, by the way, are not counted by CBP in evaluating the port’s activity.
Let’s also not forget that Roanoke Regional Airport’s flight diversion plan was tied into the CBP office and the ability for a CBP officer to quickly respond to an aviation emergency involving international passengers.
CBP officers hired since the Department of Homeland Security was created are now trained in all aspects of immigration matters and would be able to provide much better service than I did. What an opportunity for the area.
CBP is using the excuse that the port’s import activities have dropped so significantly since the economic downturn that the numbers have not met the amount necessary to meet probationary minimums. Other ports around the country did not suffer being closed when their probationary minimums were not met. The current import numbers and numbers for international flights are all they are looking at. There is no room for potential or increasing numbers as the economy recovers.
Common expressions such as “cutting off your nose to spite your face” and “penny wise and pound foolish” come to mind.
Rep. Rick Boucher and Sen. George Allen were the previous champions of the Port of New River Valley, and I am happy to see that Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Morgan Griffith, and Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have picked up the lance and are fighting for the port. I will remember that come election time.
I am deeply saddened that my retirement served as the catalyst for the non-staffing of the port. I can no longer fight for something that I so strongly believe in, except from afar, in my retirement.
The jewel in your midst, The Port of New River Valley, should be polished and mounted in the golden setting that is Southwest Virginia. The port is more than a sign on the interstate. It is right for Southwest Virginia. It is right for all of Virginia.
Fight for it.
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