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Eastern Panhandle (W.Va.) Inland Port Coalition seeks funding for feasibility study

June 24, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Tantara West Virginia Inc., the company credited with prodding Berkeley County into establishing an inland port, "just kind of went away," but the economic development initiative is still very much alive, officials said this week.

A master plan that serves as a general outline for the port concept has received state approval, and the Eastern Panhandle Inland Port Coalition now needs funding for a feasibility study, coalition Chairman Hunter Wilson said Thursday.

The study will lay out what would be needed to make the inland port a reality from "point A to the end," Wilson said.

While there has been significant private sector interest in the port initiative, Wilson said the study will determine what is needed to operate the port, which would utilize the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, Interstate 81 and CSX and Winchester & Western rail lines.

Wilson said he has been told that the study could cost as much as $300,000, but state funding may eventually be available.

"Everybody on our board is out there beating the bush trying to anticipate the money (needed) for this feasibility study," Wilson said.

A subcommittee of the coalition now is developing a request for proposals to determine how much money will be needed for the study, Wilson said.

The study is expected to reveal what it would take to establish a federally secure entry point, as well as the possible need for general infrastructure upgrades such as utility improvements or a possible rail spur, Wilson said.

Stephen Christian, executive director of the Berkeley County Development Authority, told county council members Thursday that a cellular tower for 4G broadband communications to be built in Tabler Station Business Park in the coming year will support the progress of the inland port initiative and nearby regional airport.

In his own quarterly report to the council, Wilson said one of the biggest "pluses" is that the county is within 550 miles of two-third's of the nation's population, Wilson said.

Councilman Doug Copenhaver said he believed the county's location and supporting infrastructure, including the airport, would help make the port a reality.

Toward the end of his discussion with council members, Wilson said Tantara essentially "jump-started" the inland port initiative.

Coalition legal counsel Norwood Bentley said Friday that Tantara's failure to come up with financing for the initiative was disappointing, given the role the company played in bringing attention to the economic development idea.

After the company lit "a fire" under county officials to get behind the project, Bentley said, "Tantara just kind of went away."

Tantara West Virginia Inc.'s apparent financial woes surfaced in Berkeley County Circuit Court in May 2010 when the company was sued by a Florida company that claimed it was owed nearly $125,000 for services rendered for the inland port project, according to court records.

In a November 2010 judgment order signed by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes, Fort Lauderdale-based SFN Professional Services LLC was awarded $132,610 in damages, a figure that included legal costs and court fees, court records said. 

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