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Market plan expected for proposed Berkeley Co. inland port

July 13, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Public Port Authority's strategic planner is expected to report on the market strength of a proposed inland port in Berkeley County by the end of September, Port Authority director Patrick J. Donovan said Tuesday.

Donovan told members of the Eastern Panhandle Inland Port Coalition that the marketing data compiled by New York-based Parsons Brinckerhoff will be critical to guiding the local effort to establish a U.S. Customs-secured entry point, which community leaders see as a boon for economic development.

The inland port initiative is at an "exploratory stage," but Donovan said a strong market analysis by the consultant could help leverage more state support for the public-private venture as well as attract private partners.

Backers of the inland port designation point to the county's concentration of key transportation arteries -- Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, CSX and Winchester & Western railroads and Interstate 81 -- as the community's strength for establishing the inland port.

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The port also would be outside the bubble of restricted air space around Washington, but still close to the large metropolitan market.

Aside from attracting economic development, the inland port designation is expected to result in substantial savings for the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard, which is stationed at the airport.

The proposed inland port's district includes the airport, its industrial park and Tabler Station Business Park, which are south of Martinsburg, Cumbo Yard Industrial Park north of Martinsburg and the historic B&O roundhouse and shops property in downtown Martinsburg.

Donovan said it is very important that Winchester & Western is on board with the inland port initiative because its rail line is in close proximity to the airport and splits the county's business park nearby.

"The short line is going to play a very critical role ..." Donovan said.

Aside from the railroad's support, Donovan said they are still looking for private investors and a port operator.

Tantara West Virginia Inc., a private company that has been attributed as a driving force behind establishing the inland port, has no formal agreement with the state, Donovan said.

In October 2009, the airport's governing board authorized airfield operator Arcadia Aviation to lease space to Ashburn, Va.-based Tantara Communication LLC, but Airport Authority Chairman Rick Wachtel said Tuesday that they have no agreement with Tantara West Virginia Inc., regarding the inland port.

Tantara West Virginia Inc. was incorporated in the state by Martinsburg attorney Clarence E. "CEM" Martin in November 2009, but court records and the Secretary of State's business organization information system indicate both companies share the same Ashburn, Va., address.

In May, Tantara West Virginia was sued by a Florida company that claims that it is owed nearly $125,000 for services rendered for the inland port project. Copies of invoices attached to the civil action list the Ashburn, Va., address for Tantara West Virginia, according to records filed in Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine's office.

Martin was out of town on vacation, according to his law office, and phone and e-mail messages were not returned Tuesday night.

Martinsburg attorney Wm. Richard McCune Jr. filed a motion this month to withdraw as Tantara West Virginia's legal counsel, according to court records.

After the meeting, Donovan acknowledged that he was aware of Tantara's proposal in the Northern Panhandle for creating a high-tech shipping and communications network along local waterways a couple years ago.

While Tantara apparently backed away from that proposal, Donovan said the concept still is receiving attention.

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