Managing Operational and Environmental Risks in the Strategic Plan of a Maritime Container Port; A Path Toward Environmental Equity in Hampton Roads

Sampaio, Gabriel, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Baritaud, Catherine, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Lambert, James, EN-Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia

Increasing globalization and worsening climate change effects will have a critical effect on the operations of maritime container ports and their surrounding communities. The Port of Virginia, located in Hampton Roads, provides an excellent opportunity to conduct risk analyses in preparation for future scenarios that can cause disruption to both the Port and general public. The aim of the technical project is to provide the Port of Virginia with a series of recommendations for investment initiatives that have been ranked against a set of disruptive scenarios covering areas such as industry changes, renewable energy adoption, and environmental shocks. The loosely coupled STS research paper examines the causes and effects of environmental racism in the surrounding Hampton Roads community and search for equitable solutions to the climate problem. The coupling of the technical work with the STS research provides multiple perspectives for sustainable development and critical insight into the relationships between governmental institutions and minority communities in Hampton Roads.

The Port of Virginia will have to contend with a number of industry and environmental changes if it wishes to remain competitive. As one of the largest container ports on the East Coast, it is a critical hub in the regional supply chain and one of the state’s biggest economic assets. In order to assess the resilience of the Port of Virginia and increase future preparedness, a scenario-based preference model was developed using a set of agreed-upon investment initiatives, assessment criteria, and emergent conditions. Using this model, a set of investment initiatives were ranked according to their resilience and the scenarios were ranked according to their disruptiveness.

The results of the analysis provide valuable insights for the Port of Virginia’s consideration. The environment will play a pivotal role in future port initiatives, as the most disruptive scenarios are the green technology movement, increased environmental legislation, and green bonds becoming widespread. The least disruptive scenario, population shifts, indicates a smaller relative impact on the port’s initiatives. The highest ranking initiatives, and thus the ones the port should most strongly consider are the augmentation of offshore wind, dispatching augmented operations, and port integration. The initiatives most resilient to different types of disruption are the augmentation of offshore wind, fuel cell implementation, and post-Panamax cranes at Virginia International Gateway (VIG). The results of the technical project indicate that the Port of Virginia should strongly consider integration with the green movement and make concrete steps toward sustainable projects in renewable energy.

The STS research paper is centered around the causes of environmental racism in Hampton Roads and the roadblocks toward equitable sustainable development in the region. The highlighting of the disparities faced between minority communities and White communities in the fight against climate change is central to the research. A variety of sources are employed, including legislative documents, scientific analyses and personal interviews. The research uses the Actor-Network Theory (ANT) model at the neighborhood level to discern the valid relationships between human and non-human actors that have some degree of impact. ANT also allows for a detailed view of the power asymmetry of the local network and how this imbalance contributes to the detrimental situation of minority communities.

The results of the analysis with ANT show an obvious power asymmetry between the human actors of the network. The current living standards of Hampton Roads minority residents have largely been dictated by state and federal agencies with little to no interest in their long-term wellbeing. This is demonstrated by the strategic positioning of toxic waste sites near low-valued property. This callous disregard for human health is only one of the consequences of environmental racism; minority communities in Hampton Roads are hotter on average, have less tree coverage, have more porous asphalt, and are more likely to be located in a food desert. In order to return environmental equity back to those who need it the most in Hampton Roads, the problem must be addressed at the systemic level. The STS research concludes with several potential solutions that can be employed today to begin this process.

The results of the technical and STS research topics offer a general theme of responsible sustainable development for the Hampton Roads region. The Port of Virginia has a number of investment initiatives at its disposal that can help propel it to becoming the top container port on the East Coast. In a similar vein, there are numerous environmental actions that can be taken by local governments today that will immediately begin to restore equity to Hampton Roads’ most vulnerable residents.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
sea port, container port, Port of Virginia, environmental racism, Actor-Network Theory, risk analysis

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering
Technical Advisor: James H. Lambert
STS Advisor: Catherine D. Baritaud
Technical Team Members: Christopher Gacek, Derek Gimbel, Samuel Longo, Benjamin Mendel

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