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Lack of insurance suspends B&O's Rail Days

July 17, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Rail Days, an annual festival held at the B&O roundhouse and shop buildings in Martinsburg, will not be held for "the foreseeable future," Clarence E. "CEM" Martin, chairman of the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority, said last week.

The site, which was rebuilt after Confederate Col. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson ordered the railroad shops to be burned in 1862, is not open to tourists because the property no longer is insured, Martin said.

Rail Days last was held in 2008 and failed to generate enough money cover operating expenses for the Roundhouse Authority, Martin said. The Roundhouse Authority is a public corporation that was created by the West Virginia Legislature in 1999 to restore and reuse the property. The festival has been the authority's primary fundraiser.

The 2008 festival generated about $10,000, but Martin told the Berkeley County Commission last year that wasn't enough to cover about $14,000 in annual insurance and debt payments in addition to about $20,000 in operating costs.

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After the commission removed the property from its insurance coverage rolls, Martin said Friday that a benefactor contributed money and helped continue the policy until closing the property to the public at the beginning of this year.

The Roundhouse Authority's state fairs and festivals award for Rail Days was cut to $10,000 last year, and Martin said they received $9,500 this year.

Without insurance in place to allow people on the grounds for events, the authority is working with the state to see if the festival money can be utilized for installing permanent restrooms on the property, Martin said. There are no restrooms currently on site and Martin said portable facilities have been rented for past festivals.

To get restrooms built, Martin said the authority needs matching money for a grant it has received for capital improvements. Altogether, Martin said about $8 million has been awarded to the authority, but that money has been exclusively for bricks-and-mortar projects to preserve the site and operating funds have been scare.

While Martin credited the City of Martinsburg for "very helpful" in-kind support, he said the absence of regular local funding for operational costs has hurt efforts to attract support from organizations outside the community, he said.

"You bring $8 million into a community and the lack of support is very frustrating," Martin said.

Aside from the property's insurance-related liability concerns, the Berkeley County Roundhouse Foundation Inc., an offshoot of the Roundhouse Authority, has been named in a lawsuit involving a trolley that was purchased for the Rail Days festival and other tourism events in the community.

The vehicle was purchased in 2002 with federal grant money by the Berkeley County Commission and the title since has been transferred to the roundhouse foundation, Martin said.

The suit filed in circuit court on behalf of Julie Myers of Frederick, Md., in Morgan County, W.Va., seeks a judgment against the foundation, along with the Berkeley County Commission and the Berkeley Springs-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce (doing business as the Apple Butter Festival).

Myers wants to be compensated for injuries she claims she received while aboard the trolley in October 2008 when it was being used for the Apple Butter Festival, according to a complaint filed July 1 in Morgan County Circuit Clerk Kimberly J. Jackson's office.

While the litigation is pending, Martin said the trolley was leased last week to a Shepherdstown, W.Va., limousine service on a yearly basis.

"We don't have the insurance to operate," said Martin, who added he believes the lease is a good deal for the authority. Martin declined to disclose the terms of the lease, which authority board member James Castleman said he voted against believing a better deal could be had.

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2003, the railroad shops are where the first national strike of rail workers began in 1877. The cast iron-framed roundhouse in the three-building complex built after the Civil War is the sole surviving structure of its kind, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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