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Carper agrees Yeager could lose service

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said Thursday the potential closure of the National Guard's 130th Airlift Wing isn't the only problem Yeager Airport could face.

This week, Yeager Airport Director Rick Atkinson told the airport's governing board Charleston could lose commercial air service if the 130th, which has its military base next to Yeager, is closed.

The National Guard provides fire service and emergency rescue capabilities for Yeager. Atkinson said ticket prices and airline landing fees would be too high if Yeager were forced to raise prices to pick up the $1.2 million annual cost of fire and emergency protection. He said customers would be unwilling to pay the high ticket prices, and airlines would be unwilling to pay the landing fees.

Carper agreed Thursday. "I don't see how the airport can absorb those costs," he said. "It's beyond just the money. How do you replace those services?"

In addition to another potential round of proposed federal military base closures, Carper said, federal budget cutbacks could mean the loss of Yeager Airport's control tower.

In 2005, the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission planned to send the aircraft from the 130th to other bases.

The 130th survived the last round of base closures after federal, state and local officials fought to keep it open.

Central to saving the 130th is finding about $9 million to build a bridge across the Elk River to provide a new entrance to Coonskin Park. The current park entrance is Coonskin Drive, which runs right through the middle of the National Guard base.

A lack of security at the 130th was a key argument for shutting the unit down in 2005. Building a new entrance to Coonskin Park would allow the National Guard to close off Coonskin Drive to the public, solving the security problem.

Byrd included funding for the new bridge in the federal budget but died before the money was allotted. Funding for the project was pulled from the federal budget last year.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the state National Guard's adjutant general, expects federal officials to try to shut down numerous military bases and programs across the country as they struggle with federal budget cuts. The key to survival of National Guard units will be to demonstrate their capabilities and stress the fact guard personnel are cheaper than active duty men and women.

Hoyer plans a series of joint military exercises to show what the West Virginia National Guard can do -- and how it can do it cheaper and as well if not better than the full-time military.

He agreed the National Guard and state and local officials will have to work together to protect both the 130th and Yeager Airport.

"The two are very much intertwined together," he said.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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