CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the Kanawha County Commission voted to spend $1.5 million Tuesday night, which is the final piece of the funding puzzle needed to build a new bridge to Coonskin Park and better secure the National Guard's 130th Airlift Wing.
State and local officials say the new bridge is mandatory to close off Coonskin Drive to the public and keep the federal government from closing the 130th Airlift Wing.
When the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission tried to shut down the 130th in 2005, base security was one of the arguments it used. Coonskin Drive, which runs from Greenbrier Street to Coonskin Park, also runs right past the 130th Airlift Wing headquarters and a National Guard armory.
State and local officials want to close off Coonskin Drive to the public and build a new entrance to Coonskin Park across the Elk River in the Mink Shoals area. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, state Adj. Gen. James Hoyer, officials for Yeager Airport and members of the Kanawha County Commission all agree Coonskin Drive must be closed to survive another round of federal base closures. Hoyer said the 130th and armory create about 1,100 part-time and 350 full-time jobs, and contribute about $89 million to the local economy.
The 130th, which shares a mountaintop with Yeager Airport, also provides security and fire protection for the airport. Airport Director Rick Atkinson has said the airport might be forced to shut down if it loses the 130th and has to build a new fire station and pay for emergency and fire service.
Hoyer said the bridge is expected to cost between $9 million and $11 million. The late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., tried to get money for the new span included in the federal budget, but died before the money could be secured.
State and local officials have agreed to pick up the tab. County commissioners Kent Carper, Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores voted unanimously to put $1.5 million in county money toward the project. Carper said the Yeager Airport board has also agreed to $1.5 million in funding.
Hoyer said the rest of the money for the bridge will come from the state and the National Guard. He said the project will be bid out in September, and could be completed within two years.
As thanks for their support for the National Guard, Hoyer presented county commissioners with a framed commissioned painting that represents the long history of the West Virginia National Guard's contributions to national defense.
"We have been a part of the national defense since before we were even a state," Hoyer said.