Officials in WVa. fear security concerns may doom base
The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State officials worried that the 130th Airlift Wing and National Guard Armory on Coonskin Drive will be closed down unless security concerns are corrected can point to a base in California that was closed for that very reason.
Officials with the West Virginia National Guard fear that federal officials will shut down the 130th Airlift Wing unless they close off Coonskin Drive to improve base security. Coonskin Drive provides the only access to Coonskin Park, but runs directly in front of the armory and buildings used by the Army National Guard and Air National Guard.
Closing the road requires finding a new entrance to Coonskin Park. State officials have proposed building a new bridge across the Elk River in the Mink Shoals area at a cost of about $9 million.
Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, state adjutant general, is convinced that federal officials will shut down the facilities on Coonskin Drive unless the road is closed and the bridge is built.
"We're really not trying to buffalo anybody," Hoyer said last week. "We're not building a bridge just to build a bridge."
In 2005, the federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission recommended shutting the 130th Airlift Wing down, in part because of security issues caused by the road running by National Guard facilities. Although the security issue is not spelled out specifically in the 2005 BRAC report, Hoyer said several Department of Defense reports raising the security issue were among the information BRAC officials used in making their decision.
Because of a coordinated effort by state and local officials and former U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., the 130th was spared in the 2005 series of military base closures. But another round of BRAC closures is coming, and Hoyer said the security concerns are the only problems federal officials found at Coonskin that have yet to be corrected.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Hoyer said, federal officials increased the amount of buffer space required around military facilities to more than 148 feet to protect against potential attacks. In 2012, the standoff distance was increased to 262 feet. With a road running just feet from several National Guard buildings on Coonskin Drive, "We're wide open," Hoyer said.
Hoyer and other state officials fear the 130th Airlift Wing will be closed unless the buffer zone is created, because they say it has already happened. The 2005 BRAC report also recommended the closure of Onizuka Air Force Base in Sunnyvale, Calif., because of security issues similar to those that exist along Coonskin Drive.
"There's a clear case where that has occurred," Hoyer said.
Built in 1960, Onizuka was one of the Air Force's main satellite tracking stations. But 2nd Lt. Stacy Gault, West Virginia National Guard public affairs officer, said Onizuka -- located in a congested area -- has roads running next to the facility just like Coonskin Drive.
"Because of the road being there, they had nowhere to go [to correct security concerns]," Gault said.
The 2005 BRAC commission said Onizuka should be closed, based largely on Department of Defense reports criticizing the base's lack of a security buffer. The base shut down permanently in 2010, with its functions transferred to nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base.
But while Onizuka had nowhere to expand, Hoyer said the West Virginia National Guard does. Following the 2005 BRAC report, National Guard officials bought several homes across Coonskin Drive from the National Guard facilities to create the necessary buffer zone around the base.
Closing Coonskin Drive and installing a new main gate near the entrance of the road should solve the facility's security problems, Hoyer and state officials believe.
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