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Millions set aside for new Coast Guard center in Panhandle

March 22, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A move to bring 250 more U.S. Coast Guard jobs to the Eastern Panhandle made progress Tuesday when U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd announced that he has added $12 million to federal appropriations legislation to help develop a new Coast Guard facility in the area.

Byrd also announced that the Coast Guard has signed a lease for more than 5,700 square feet of office space in the Burr Industrial Park to serve as an interim location for its consolidated National Maritime Center until construction of a permanent building can be completed.

Byrd, D-W.Va., announced last year that the U.S. Coast Guard planned to centralize its Mariner Licensing and Documentation program with its National Maritime Center, an operation that would be moved to the Eastern Panhandle.

At the time, Byrd said he and a Coast Guard official had been discussing ways to consolidate mariner licensing services in the Martinsburg, W.Va., area.

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The program is run through 17 regional examination centers in the country, Byrd said.

The Coast Guard will maintain a "store front operation" in those locations, but key functions will be moved to the Martinsburg facility, Byrd has said.

The National Maritime Center, a Coast Guard field unit in Arlington, Va., works on new and innovative ways to assist the maritime community in using services of the Coast Guard, according to a Coast Guard Web site.

The office space the U.S. Coast Guard will lease in the Burr Industrial Park is in a two-story office building near T.A. Lowery Elementary School, said Jane Peters, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority.

About 40 people will work in the temporary space, and the Coast Guard plans to begin moving the workers into the building in June, Byrd said in a news release.

The Coast Guard will need at least 58,000 square feet of space for the permanent facility, Byrd said. A search is under way for a site, and a contract is expected to be finalized this summer, Byrd said.

Local officials have celebrated the news of the new Coast Guard facility, saying it is a boon for the area, especially since some communities across the country are facing losses of federal jobs through military base closures.

"The Coast Guard has proved what I have always preached: Federal agencies can have their front door in Washington, but get far more bang for their bucks by locating key operations in West Virginia. We have the people ready to do the job. We have the infrastructure to support demanding high-tech projects. We have an excellent quality of life. Overall, there's no beating West Virginia," Byrd said.

The Coast Guard already has a large presence in the Eastern Panhandle, employing hundreds of people.

The Coast Guard's Operations System Center in the Liberty Business Park maintains and supports the information systems and databases the Coast Guard uses worldwide.

Liberty Business Park is along W.Va. 9 in the Baker Heights area.

About 420 people work at the center, officials have said.

A little more than 100 people work at the National Vessel Documentation Center in Falling Waters, W.Va., which facilitates maritime commerce and financing and provides a register of vessels available in time of war or emergency, officials have said.

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