CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said increased security at Coonskin Park and a new training ground in Logan County would ease federal uneasiness regarding the National Guard's 130th Airlift Wing at Yeager Airport.
The projects would address three suggestions made in 2005 by the U.S. Defense Department's Base Closure and Realignment Commission, Tomblin said during a news conference at the Air National Guard base on Monday. The Commission recommended the base's closure unless several changes were made, including increasing controls over public access to the area.
Earlier this summer, retired Adjutant Gen. Allen Tackett warned the base might soon be eliminated -- costing 1,000 jobs and inflicting an $89 million annual loss on the local economy -- if a new bridge isn't built into Coonskin Park, enabling increased security of the current road past the Guard's armory complex.
Tomblin said Monday that members of the Kanawha County Commission, Yeager Airport and state Division of Highways promised money to build the bridge and a new entrance at the park by 2015.
The planned bridge leading to a new Coonskin Park entrance would be close to the I-79 Mink Shoals exit. Creating that new entrance would increase security for the Air National Guard base, located right next to the park.
Today, visitors to Coonskin Park drive about a mile along a road between Greenbrier Street and the park's entrance, passing several buildings and entrances of the Air National Guard base, which is home to the 130th Airlift Wing and its many C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft.
Tomblin said the Air National Guard base would also acquire a training airstrip in Logan County to be used for simulated drop zones. The property is in an area called Camp Creek, near Blair Mountain, he said.
In 2005, U.S. Defense Department's Base Closure and Realignment Commission recommended that the state build a test airstrip to train personnel in response to natural disasters.
Maj. Gen. James A. Hoyer said the planned strip would provide the National Guard with quick access to Logan County Airport.
"The bottom line for all of this is obviously to protect the future of the West Virginia National Guard units, but more importantly we are creating a training environment where we can bring units from across the country to train," Hoyer said. "We can also help protect our young men and women by making them as highly capable and as highly trained as possible."
With improvements, Tomblin said, the state would have more leverage in securing the 130th Airlift Wing at Yeager Airport. He estimated the projects, including construction of the airstrip in Logan County and the bridge into Coonskin Park, would cost approximately $9 to $11 million. The bridge would be constructed within the next 12 to 15 months, he said. The construction of the test airstrip is still in the planning stages.
Also on Monday, Tomblin presented an award to Air National Guard Capt. Jeremy Mullins, who was one of the first people on the scene of a deadly auto accident that took the life of one teen and injured 10 other young people in Clay County on Aug. 7.
Tomblin gave Mullins the "Distinguished West Virginian Award" for helping in the crash, which occurred near his house along W.Va. 36.
Reach Travis Crum at travis.c...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.