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Berkeley Chamber takes concerns to Washington

September 26, 2000

Berkeley Chamber takes concerns to Washington



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - Local business leaders are pushing issues ranging from air quality to health care this year with federal legislators.

Those were among the concerns that members of the Chamber of Commerce of Martinsburg and Berkeley County brought to their congressmen on a recent lobbying trip.

A top concern is the possibility the federal Environmental Protection Agency might include the area with Baltimore and Washington, D.C. when setting air quality standards.

The air quality in those two urban areas is worse than in the rural area of the Eastern Panhandle, they said. But if the two areas are lumped into one, the combined pollution could bump up against federal limits, inhibiting local business growth, Chamber leaders said.

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"We think our geography is really different here, our traffic is really different here," said Berniece Collis, president of the Chamber's board of directors.

The area can obtain a waiver from the standards if it meets criteria set by the EPA, said Chamber Executive Director Judy Faul. The 30 people who journeyed to the nation's capital to meet with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D), Sen. Robert Byrd (D) and U.S. Rep. Bob Wise (D) want their lawmakers to help them through the process to meet those criteria.

"Our air quality is very good," Faul said. "We don't have old smokestack industries. The industries that have located here are clean industries. Our concern is we're a high-growth area. We feel we manage that growth well. We do not want to turn this area into cement and blacktop."

A related environmental concern deals with standards now being developed by the federal government for measuring water quality. Chamber leaders said they want clear, understandable standards.

"We support and have no problem with the fact that streams and bodies of water need to be tested," Faul said. "But we need to know what the standards are. We have to allow our business community to be able to function."

Collis said the Chamber supports - as it has for many years - plans to upgrade W.Va. 9 from the Virginia border into Martinsburg. Good transportation is also a key to businesses, she said.

The business people also lobbied to increase federal money to Medicare, especially for prescription drugs, because so many retirees live in Berkeley County.

It's also important to have adequate reimbursement for City Hospital, a large employer and a major factor in drawing businesses to the area, Faul said.

"When businesses think about locating here, they always ask about the schools, the hospital and quality of life issues," she said.

Chamber leaders also lobbied for continued support of the Air National Guard operation, the anchor of activity at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.

Chamber leaders make a lobbying trip once a year.

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