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Private investment gives inland port momentum

December 22, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.-- Private investment is a driving force behind the revival of a 15-year-old effort to create an international port of entry into Berkeley County, an attorney representing the business said.

"It didn't really start to move until this fall," Clarence E. "CEM" Martin said in an interview after Martinsburg and Berkeley County leaders approved bylaws for the fledgling Eastern Panhandle Inland Port Coalition in special meetings Tuesday.

Martin would not confirm or deny the business he incorporated last month, Tantara West Virginia Inc., was the private entity pushing for the inland port's creation.

Martin said his business client does have interest in leasing at least part of the B&O Roundhouse and shops property in Martinsburg for its headquarters.

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"They actually had identified the roundhouse as part of the project before they ever met me," said Martin, who is chairman of the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority.

The historic railroad property in downtown Martinsburg, along with the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport and nearby industrial parks south of the city, and the Cumbo Yard Industrial Park north of the city, are proposed to be part of a port authority district.

Federal certification of the inland port could be in hand by the end of the first quarter of next year, Martin told city council members Tuesday.

The city council unanimously approved Mayor George Karos' nominations of hotel manager Tom Belfield and city attorney Floyd M. "Kin" Sayre to the Port Coalition board. County commissioners on Tuesday appointed airport board member Hunter Wilson and William F. "Bill" Yearout.

The Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority's board, which Martin chairs, appointed Matthew Coffey and Elizabeth Layne Diehl, and the regional airport's governing board appointed Richard "Rick" Wachtel and Col. James Reuss, Martin said.

The Berkeley County Development Authority is scheduled to appoint two members to new board Wednesday morning and the West Virginia Public Port Authority is expected to appoint one member to the 11-member board, Martin said.

Aside from attracting economic development, State Public Port Authority Director Patrick Donovan said the inland port designation could result in substantial savings, possibly between $1 million and $2 million, for the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard, which is stationed at the airport.

International flights carrying military personnel often have to go through customs at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware before coming home, Donovan said.

The state Department of Transportation also has said the facility would help CSX Transportation relieve pressure on the Port of Baltimore and provide local shippers access to container shipping via rail.

The inland port designation has the potential to spur a level of economic development that is "mind-boggling," Martin said after the county commission meeting Tuesday morning.

The inland port concept has long been touted by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., but stalled because of funding needed for a feasibility study, Martin said.

A feasibility study now is not needed if private interests essentially agree to pay for U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to provide the necessary security service, Donovan said.

The North Central West Virginia Trade Development Association was formed recently to pay for customs agents at the Clarksburg, W.Va., airport, Donovan said

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