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Officials eye suitor for intermodal facility

WAYNE — Wayne County commissioners say they have identified an agency interested in operating the Heartland Intermodal Gateway facility, which has struggled to gain much of a foothold in the freight transfer business since it opened four years ago.

The Wayne County Commission held a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the potential suitor for the intermodal facility in Prichard, West Virginia.

The West Virginia Public Port Authority board, during a meeting earlier this month, gave Wayne County officials until Aug. 30 to submit proposals to save the $32 million Heartland Intermodal Gateway facility from being sold.

According to Commissioner Jeff Maddox, the Port of Virginia (PVA) has expressed significant interest in leasing the facility but have no interest in buying it outright.

"Had we not been at that (earlier) meeting, I'm sure they would have gone ahead with selling it. At least that gave us some time to get our ducks in a row," Maddox said following the Aug. 6 meeting. "We swung them. We really did."

He said representatives from the Port Authority of Virginia are working on a final draft of a proposal to lease the Prichard facility, which was built to allow transfer of shipments between rail and trucks and was billed as a way to generate jobs in the Prichard area. If the proposal is accepted, it would be the first facility outside the state of Virginia to be operated by the PVA.

The company owns, operates or leases five marine terminals, all on the harbor of Hampton Roads: the Norfolk International Terminals (NIT) at Norfolk, Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT) at Portsmouth, Newport News Marine Terminal (NNMT) at Newport News, Virginia International Gateway (VIG) at Portsmouth, and one intermodal container transfer facility (dry port), the Virginia Inland Port in Front Royal, Virginia. According to the PVA's website, about 37% of all cargo handled by the company arrives or departs by rail.

Commissioners agreed that the Prichard facility's long-term goal should still be in play when it comes to deciding its future, a motive of the state that has been questioned by Wayne officials.

If it sells to the current operators, Commissioner Kenneth Adkins said he doesn't think the facility will ever reach its full potential.

"If it is not operated as an intermodal facility, then Wayne County will never realize the potential it was intended for here with the warehousing industry that we hoped would follow the construction of that intermodal facility," said Adkins.

Current operations in Prichard are reportedly being handled by Appalachian Railcar Services, a company specializing in freight and tank car maintenance, repair, storage, switching and track repair. Before leaving his position in June, former West Virginia Public Port Authority Director Neal Vance told The Herald-Dispatch that he approached the private company about operating it on a long-term lease at their cost.

Maddox is hoping to see the Port of Virginia step in and flip the conversation from a failing facility to a flourishing one.

"If they don't go in, I think we're dogged," said Maddox, "but I think they're in."

He recalled a conversation with Port of Virginia CEO and Executive Director John Reinhart, who, according to Maddox, said the Prichard facility reminded him a lot of the Richmond Marine Terminal.

It was reportedly struggling to bring in business like the Prichard facility, but the port authority has made investments to expand and improve a barge service along the James River since its takeover. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in April that shipment volumes have been growing since 2014 and shipments by barge are projected to exceed 34,200 containers this fiscal year and 41,200 in the next fiscal year.

"Richmond Marine Terminal is just a real success story," Reinhart said in an interview with the publication.

PVA signed a five-year lease with the city of Richmond to operate the facility in late 2010. It now operates the terminal under a 40-year lease.

The Heartland facility sits on 100 acres of land donated by Norfolk Southern Railway and private property owners along the banks of the Big Sandy River in Prichard. The purpose of the facility is to provide businesses with a truck-to-rail transfer facility along the 530-mile Heartland Corridor that runs from the Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads, Virginia, through West Virginia to Chicago.

West Virginia Transportation Secretary Byrd White said Prichard had only 579 lifts of containers off railcars to trucks at $30 a lift in the 2019 fiscal year, totaling $17,370 in income — but the terminal had $522,000 in expenses for a loss of about half a million dollars.

Joe Harris, spokesperson for the Port of Virginia, confirmed that the company is "exploring the opportunity" to lease the Heartland Intermodal Gateway but further explained that no official proposal or documents had been filed with the West Virginia Department of Transportation.

"What ends up happening at the end of the day, I don't know, but we don't need to lose our long-term vision over some temporary pains because of poor management," said Maddox.

All proposals, which are required to be submitted electronically to DOT General Counsel Nathaniel K. Tawney by 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, will be shared with the PPA Board of Directors and may be discussed or requested to be presented at a public meeting of the board.

A follow-up meeting to the Aug. 6 discussion is supposed to occur during the first week of September, but a date and time have not yet been released. Public meetings require a public notice to be released five business days prior to the meeting date.


Music, more continue in days leading up to HMAF

HUNTINGTON — In what has become a Labor Day Weekend tradition in the Tri-State, the Huntington Music and Arts Festival takes place at the Ritter Park Amphitheater on Saturday, Aug. 31.

Lasting from noon until 10 p.m., the event will be a chance to see more than 20 music acts that are making their mark locally, regionally and nationally. At the same time, artisans will display their talents.

The days leading up to Saturday's event have provided a full week's worth of activity and events happening all over Huntington — including a performance by Big Rock and the Candy-Ass Mountain Boys on Wednesday at Old Central City — and the main event Saturday will be a full day's worth of entertainment.


Kluemper appointed to Huntington City Council

Kluemper

HUNTINGTON — Residents living in Huntington's easternmost neighborhoods got a new representative on City Council on Wednesday night.

Ted V. Kluemper Jr., a Democrat, was appointed by council members to take the District 9 seat, which includes the neighborhoods of Guyandotte, Altizer, Arlington Park and a portion of Highlawn. The seat was vacated Aug. 12 after former council member Tina Brooks resigned for personal reasons.

Kluemper said he is new to politics, but threw his hat into the ring because he wanted to make a difference in his community.

"I've always been an advocate of Huntington, and I feel like we have the greatest city in the world," he said. "I would like to do my small thing to keep our city moving up."

He said he looks forward to meeting the people of the district to learn about their concerns.

"My number is in the phone book and I'm willing to listen to you. I'm new at this, but I will be able to take people's concerns, good and bad, and pass them along and see what I can do to help," he said.

Kluemper retired from the insurance business after 52 years, having sold his agency, Ted V. Kluemper Insurance Agency, to Mountain State Insurance Agency in January. Although he has not served in public office before, Kleumper is involved with several organizations. He is a member of the Independent Insurance Agents of West Virginia's Board of Directors and the Boy Scouts Executive Board, among others. He served as president of the Huntington Rotary Club from 2009-10 and was chairman of the Board of Huntington Credit Bureau.

Eleven people had applied for the District 9 seat earlier this week, but only eight showed up to a special meeting convened Wednesday to conduct interviews. Following an executive session that lasted two hours, council members made nominations to the seat.

Gareth Douglas Barnett, John "Jack" Dorsey Daniels and Carl L. Eastham all

received nominations, in addition to Kluemper.

Council members then voted from those nominated until a majority was reached. It took two rounds to narrow down the applicants until Kluemper was selected.

In the first round, Kluemper received three votes and Eastham received two votes. Daniels and Barnett each received one vote.

In the second round, Kluemper received five votes and Eastham, a former Huntington fire chief, received two votes.

Kista Black, David Kitchen, Anna Warren Lewis and Aaron Z. Morrison did not receive nominations. Joe Powers, John D. Short and Gregg Ellyn Walker applied for the seat by deadline earlier this week but did not show up Wednesday.

Kluemper was sworn in immediately following Wednesday's vote and will participate in the next regular City Council meeting at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9 as a council member. He will serve the remainder of Brooks' unexpired term, which will end Jan. 1, 2020. Kluemper said he intends to run for election in 2020 if his health allows it. He will need to win in the 2020 primary and general elections to hold on to the seat.

Council members Alex Vence, Tom McGuffin and Rebecca Howe were absent from Wednesday's special meeting.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.


Marshall, Homeland Security team up on opioid crisis

HUNTINGTON — Marshall University has joined in partnership with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to leverage resources to combat the opioid epidemic.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., chairwoman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, announced Wednesday a finalized partnership in which Marshall will receive $4.25 million to develop and implement a tool to aid HSI in investigation, disrupting and dismantling criminal activity related to the opioid epidemic.

This partnership will enhance the ability to fight the opioid crisis and enlists the help of the Marshall digital forensics and information assurance program's students, faculty and facilities.

John Sammons, director of the digital forensics and information assurance program at Marshall, said the focus is on investigating transnational criminal activity, to include cyber crime and cyber-facilitated crime.

"The Marshall digital forensics and information assurance faculty, students and staff are honored to assist HSI with this critical mission," Sammons said. "We've been able to see firsthand the terrible impact this epidemic has had on our own community. We look forward to working with HSI to help counter the criminal aspects of this epidemic."

Discussions between the university and the department have been ongoing for several months, and earlier this year, Capito toured the Marshall University

Forensic Science Center with DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan.

"As chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, I've worked to combine the talents and abilities of these two respected entities, Marshall University and HSI," Capito said in a release. "This partnership in cybersecurity and forensics is a promising one for West Virginia as we continue working to fight the opioid epidemic, and I'm confident it will also benefit other states and communities across the country by improving our ability to monitor and interdict illicit activity on the internet. I'm proud to have helped make the connections within the department and provide funding for what I hope will be a long-term partnership between Marshall and HSI."

"Marshall University continues to work diligently to address all aspects of the opioid epidemic here at home and across the United States," said Jerome Gilbert, president of Marshall University, in a release. "This new award allows the university to develop and deploy a mechanism that will aid our federal agencies in fighting criminal activity associated with the epidemic. I'm incredibly proud of our faculty-scientists and staff members involved in this project."

"The Marshall digital forensics and information assurance faculty, students and staff are honored to assist HSI with this critical mission. ... We look forward to working with HSI to help counter the criminal aspects of this epidemic."

John Sammons

Director of Marshall's digital forensics and information assurance program