Obituaries for the late Senator Robert Byrd remarked upon many things, including his uncanny ability to deliver vast piles of Federal dollars to his home state of West Virginia. One can debate whether that’s a positive attribute or a negative, but either way it’s hard to dispute that Sen. Byrd excelled at that fine art. Many obituaries compiled long lists of goodies he delivered to the folks back home, including what many considered a particularly brazen instance of a Coast Guard facility that was moved to his landlocked home state.
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For the benefit of readers from outside of the United States who may not be completely familiar with the exact placement of each state, the salient point to consider is that West Virginia does not have a coastline. The Twelve Mile Circle does have a fairly sizable international audience so I don’t want to assume this is an obvious point, but hopefully it doesn’t come across as patronizing. It’s not meant that way.
The Coast Guard does have homeports located inland, primarily within the Great Lakes region and along major branches of the Mississippi River watershed. They even operate a Marine Safety Unit in Huntington, West Virginia, with responsibility for a stretch of the Ohio River:
MSU Huntington is comprised of 39 active duty members and 20 reservist, supporting three 25-foot defender class response boats, and a Disaster Assistant Response Team (DART) which is used for flood response operations throughout the country. In addition, the Coast Guard Guardians of MSU Huntington conduct port security patrols, marine inspections, pollution response, marine casualty investigations, and waterway management activities.
That’s not what the obituaries were talking about, though. They were considering something much more landlocked, much more inexplicable, and much more unusual; the Coast Guard facilities near Martinsburg.
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I suppose it would be possible from a theoretical perspective to paddle down the little creek in that image towards the Potomac River on the upper-right, and head downstream towards the Chesapeake Bay and onward to the Atlantic Ocean. The Great Falls of the Potomac River would be a bit problematic, but portage around that and the coast is readily accessible from Martinsburg at least by kayak.
There are at several Coast Guard centers in Martinsburg (or nearby Kearneysville) and I uncovered four with a little time on the search engines. They’re not as easy to find as one might imagine. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security and they seem a bit reluctant to advertise their facilities although they do leave behind enough breadcrumbs to identify them.
- Operations Systems Center
- National Maritime Center
- National Vessel Movement Center
- National Vessel Documentation Center
The Coast Guard’s Operations Systems Division “develops, fields, maintains and provides user support for Coast Guard enterprise information systems…" They’re located, appropriately enough, on Coast Guard Drive. They get double-points, by the way, since Coast Guard Drive serves as the boundary between Berkeley and Jefferson Counties.
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The National Maritime Center opened its new facility in Martinsburg in January 2008. As they describe themselves, "the NMC is like a national Division of Motor Vehicles, but instead of licensing motorists, the NMC is licensing and credentialing Merchant Mariners."
As I investigated the situation further it became apparent that these are not activities that require access to a coastline. Developing information systems? Licensing Merchant Mariners? These seem geographically independent to me. Whether they should be performed in West Virginia, well, I’ll let others debate the merits. I could certainly see taxpayer savings since just about everything is cheaper away from the cities, whether that’s West Virginia or some other rural locale.
The reality of these functions certainly don’t seem to match the headlines. Coast Guard in West Virginia? — no big deal.