It only took 16 days, millions of dollars in lost revenue, and the threat of a credit downgrade. But with the shutdown countdown finally underway, all eyes are on Congress like never before. Among the potential solutions that could have expedited the 2-week government standoff was this nifty idea from one American: Lock Congress in a bunker out in West Virginia until they could all hash out a plan to end the latest round of government gridlock. Not just any bunker, either: The Greenbrier Bunker.
For more than 30 years, this vast underground bunker (picture, bottom) existed beneath the Greenbrier Resort, located just outside the town of White Sulphur Springs, in Greenbrier County, WV — all completely unknown to the outside world. It all began in the late 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, when the US government approached the swanky, 1,500-acre West Virginia resort, which opened back in 1858, about building an emergency shelter for Congress in the event of a nuclear fallout.
The thinking went that no one would ever suspect Congress was hiding out in plain view, under one of America’s most famous resorts. And with Washington, DC, just a few hours away by car (and a stone’s throw from a nearby airport landing strip and train, the latter conveniently located next to the resort) – as well as the surrounding Allegheny Mountains to catch nuclear fallout debris — the idea for a bunker beneath the resort (codenamed Project Greek Island) seemed to make a whole lot of sense.
The only thing is the worst never happened, and Congress never got a chance to settle into the top-secret digs. But for 30 years, a small staff, known as the innocuous-sounding Forsythe Associates, kept the massive, 112,544-square-foot bunker in a state of constant operational readiness: Medications for every member of Congress were kept current; food rations were routinely rotated; sheets on bunk beds in the 18 dormitories routinely changed (see picture, bottom) and the maintenance and upkeep of medical, entertainment (like TVs) and exercise equipment were continually updated with the latest models. All of this at the taxpayer’s expense, to the tune of $14 million to build and several times that amount to stock with the needed provisions through the years.
That all changed in 1992, when the Washington Post ran a cover story exposing the Greenbrier Bunker – and questioning whether taxpayer money was wisely being spent on a nuclear fallout shelter that had never been put to use. The bunker was soon decommissioned, and in the years to come it was opened to the public for tours — among the highlights are the Governor’s Hall, which was originally built as a chamber for the US House of Representatives; the cafeteria, which could feed 400 people in 1 seating; and the press room, with a tapestry image of the Capitol ready for any live TV shots. The vast facility is also used as a data storage site for a private sector company, CSX Corporation, which allows tours under the proviso that the public not photograph the premises.
Data storage is great and all, but the whole idea of gathering up Congress for a sit-down session might do wonders for expediting negotiation in the event of future shutdown scenarios. In our view, there’s something about being 720 feet deep into the West Virginia hillside, without the light of day, that may just make an elected official want to hurry up, get the job down and … maybe end a potential shutdown. Who knows, maybe the $14 million cost for this hideout could be well-spent after all.
Check out Travel Channel’s intriguing tour of the Greenbrier Bunker: