Roundhouse board green-lights National Guard lease talks

September 07, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority board on Wednesday authorized its chairman to negotiate a proposed lease with the West Virginia National Guard, which is interested in using a historic railroad maintenance shop complex in Martinsburg.

Authority Chairman Clarence E. “CEM” Martin III told board members that the National Guard is interested in leasing the Frog & Switch and Bridge & Machine shop buildings that the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad built after the Civil War.

Community use of the cast-iron frame roundhouse at the property would be maintained, Martin said.

The National Guard is interested in leasing the buildings for at least five years and would secure the property 24 hours a day, Martin told the board via a telephone conference call.

After the meeting, Martin said a proposed agreement could be finalized and presented to the roundhouse authority board for consideration before the end of the year based on conversations he has had with the National Guard.

Martin told board members that a lease agreement with the National Guard could generate enough revenue to pay off about $400,000 in debt the authority has accrued and money for annual operating expenses.

The authority’s current annual expenses are about $48,000, according to a progress report Martin presented last month to county leaders.

The Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority was formed in 1999 to preserve, restore and redevelop the 13.6-acre property, which was purchased by the Berkeley County Commission and then transferred to the authority, a public corporation created by an act of the state Legislature.

The National Guard has declined to elaborate on the type of maintenance operations that it may house in the railroad shop buildings, which replaced the original railroad maintenance shop complex that was burned in the Civil War.

The first nationwide railroad strike began at the existing roundhouse and red-brick shop buildings along Tuscarora Creek in 1877. CSX Transportation, which absorbed the B&O through a series of mergers, operated the shop complex until 1988.

Martin said he is cautiously optimistic about the prospect of obtaining about $70,000 in matching funds that is needed to draw down previously awarded transportation grant money.

The grant funding is to be used to install bathrooms in the industrial complex, which Martin said the National Guard needs for its operation.

Martin said he was told a rail siding could be built to re-connect the shop buildings to the active CSX track that runs past the property, if the Guard needed rail access.

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