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Racetrack opponents speak out at meeting

May 03, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Edgar Mason, of Inwood, W.Va., didn't mince words when he stood before 100 people at a public meeting Thursday night and told state Sen. Herb Snyder what he thought of the idea of bringing a NASCAR-style racetrack to Berkeley County.

"My opinion is I don't want to see your project anywhere in Berkeley County," Mason told Snyder, D-Jefferson, at the meeting at the Berkeley County Courthouse.

"Senator Snyder, I wish you well someplace else," Mason said.

Mason then turned to the crowd and asked how many opposed Snyder's proposal to build a track in the Inwood area.

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Nearly everyone raised a hand.

Public comments at the meeting held by the Berkeley County Commissioners were overwhelmingly against the track, and the audience reacted at times with applause to comments opposing it.

"Goodnight Herb," one person yelled from the crowd.

At the beginning of the meeting, Snyder asked County Commission President Howard Strauss to remove anyone who was rude.

Realizing most of those at the meeting did not support the track plan, Snyder said at one point that he felt "like a fire hydrant at a dog show."

"Would it be okay if they put it over in Maryland?" Snyder asked.

The crowd responded with applause.

"Don't get hyper over this yet. It's only a proposed site," Snyder said.

Snyder has said that a stretch of open farmland on the west side of Interstate 81 at the Inwood exit could be considered for a track site. He has said there are roughly 500 to 3,000 acres in that area that could be used for a track.

Some Inwood-area residents had expressed concern about how a track would affect the area, and the commissioners invited Snyder to attend their regular meeting Thursday night to field questions and comments from county residents.

Speakers said they were concerned about traffic generated by a track, fumes, bright lights and noise. One woman said noise from a car racetrack can affect children's ability to concentrate on school work, can cause high blood pressure and even lead to impotence in men.

"My land's not for sale," Inwood property owner Velma Butler said.

Kip Rutherford, who lives in the Gerrardstown, W.Va., area, said he has done some research on some of the major NASCAR racetracks in the country to determine what impacts they have on the communities where they are located.

By talking to a national racing organization, Rutherford said he learned that the tracks attract up to 92,000 people and it takes hours for race fans to exit the facilities. It takes three hours for race fans to get out of a Kansas City track that has 12 exit lanes feeding into four interchanges and finally into two interstates, Rutherford said.

Considering there is only one interstate, I-81, in Inwood and only two-lane W.Va. 51 serving most of the property being eyed for the track, Rutherford figured it would take about 23 hours for race fans to get out of Inwood.

Snyder has said he never said races at his proposed track would be sanctioned by NASCAR, although that is what he had hoped for.

When lawmakers go to Charleston, W.Va., and think up projects like this, "it's no wonder we're at the bottom of the pile," said Gerrardstown-area resident Tom Slater.

Tom Hite, however, said he liked Snyder's idea.

Wearing a NASCAR hat, Hite said NASCAR races are so popular that they generate $75 million in racing-related revenue every time one is run.

"If I had 300 acres, I'd give it to them," Hite said.

Snyder has said Berkeley County would be an ideal place to build a track because demographic research conducted for him by West Virginia University officials shows there are 58 million people living within a 300-mile radius of Martinsburg.

Berkeley County would stand to enjoy a potential economic boon from racing considering the fact that eight car-racing events make up the country's top-10 money-making sport events, said Snyder.

"The potential is there. I think you can see that. If we're going to diversify our economy, we need to look for opportunities like this and seize on them," Snyder told the crowd.

Snyder has said he has some investors who are interesting in backing the project, but he has refused to identify them. He said Thursday night the project is still in the "very infant stages."

Although Snyder said there have been no commitments to sell land for a track in Inwood, he said one person who owns 500 acres in the area "would entertain selling at the right price."

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