CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Department of Highways has held onto a Putnam County property for 16 years, originally intending to place a maintenance facility there but then doing nothing.

Tom Smith

State Transportation Secretary Tom Smith told legislators on Sunday that the department now wants to move quickly on an exploration of whether the property just north of Poca — known as the Black Betsy property — could be used as the site for a maintenance facility after all.

“The bottom line with Black Betsy is we need to come to a conclusion quickly,” Smith told legislators. “If not we need to dispose of the property if we can’t make it work.”

Mitch Carmichael

Senate President Mitch Carmichael expressed agreement during a Sunday afternoon meeting of the Post Audits Subcommittee.

“I agree we have to instill confidence in the public that those highways dollars are being used in the most efficient manner,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson, whose district includes part of Putnam County. “Quick utilization or disposal of it is imperative.”

Smith said there are two highways maintenance facilities already — one in Hurricane and another in Red House. The one in Red House, he said, is considered outdated.

The Black Betsy property is close to river, rail and highway. Smith said that in recent weeks, since questions arose about its use, it’s been identified again for its potential location as a maintenance facility. Smith said Highways needs to move forward with engineering and environmental studies.

“Do we heed to replace Red House? Yes. Does Black Betsy provide good opportunities. Yes,” Smith said.

“If you could make the Black Betsy property work there are some opportunities. The short answer here is, if we’re able to move through those phases expeditiously then we ought to move into the next phase of budgeting for a new facility.”

The issue came up as a result of a legislative audit that looked at whether DOH properly keeps track of its right of way properties — or if it misses opportunities to sell properties that are not used.

The Division of Highways in 2001 paid $511,000 for 9.3 acres intended to be a District 1 maintenance site just north of Poca.

In 2004, DOH paid $182,500 to install a railroad crossing that originally consisted of signal lights and inserts at the property in the unincorporated community of Black Betsy.

But after that the agency decided not to place the maintenance site there after all.

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, the $511,000 paid in 2001 for the property has the same buying power as approximately $707,000 would today, and the $182,500 additional costs spent by the DOH for the installation of a railroad crossing in 2004 would equate to approximately $235,000 in today’s dollars. Therefore, after this adjustment for inflation, the DOH has an investment of approximately $942,000 on property that has provided no benefit to the State,” the auditors wrote.

“While we have made no attempt to establish a current market value of this property, it is likely that 9.3 acres of riverfront property located five miles from the I-64 Nitro exit could have considerable worth.”

Smith agreed that valuable property should not just sit with no plan. But he said DOH may now move forward to use the property, depending on the result of its studies.

“Having a property sit unused 16 years is unacceptable without any plan. We’ve got to do better,” Smith said.

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