Port authority proposed in Berkeley

October 31, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - It won't lead to freighters coursing up and down the Potomac River, but the Berkeley County Commission Thursday was asked to consider signing on to an intergovernmental agreement that could create a port authority in the Eastern Panhandle.

"What we're talking about is rail and airport transportation in this area," Clarence E. "CEM" Martin III said Wednesday, the day before presenting his proposal to the commission. Martin, chairman of the Greater Eastern Panhandle Chamber Committee, and Ken Green, executive director of the Eastern Panhandle Region 9 Planning and Development Council, outlined a proposal for a feasibility study.

"This is just the start of the process," Martin said Wednesday, noting the draft of the intergovernmental agreement also needs to be presented to the Martinsburg City Council, the West Virginia Eastern Regional Airport Authority and the Berkeley County Development Authority.


By signing the intergovernmental agreement, Green and Martin explained Thursday, the parties could approach the West Virginia Port Authority for feasibility plan funding. All four entities would need to sign off on the plan for it to go forward, they told the commission.

"If the feasibility study says we can't support an inland port, we won't proceed," Green told the commission. He added that the proposal could allow the region to "stay on the cusp of the development process."

Commission President Jim Smith expressed some concern over the creation of an authority "that puts veto power in the hands of two boards we appoint." The county appoints members to both the development and airport authorities.

Green said an authority would not infringe upon the existing powers of the county or city government, the development authority or airport authority. He described it as a title "spread over the existing entities."

If the feasibility study leads to the creation of a port authority, it would provide access to federal grants and subsidies for improvements to facilities such as the airport and the train station in Martinsburg, Martin said.

County Administrator Deborah Sheetenhelm noted after Thursday's meeting that a port authority could lead to a foreign trade zone designation for the region, with tax breaks and other incentives for development. In the case of the airport, there already is substantial foreign interest with Sino Swearingen and TLM Inc. planning to build aircraft there.

Both companies are backed by Taiwanese investors.

The commission did not vote on the measure Thursday and will consider it and its next meeting.

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