CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Retired West Virginia Adj. Gen. Allen Tackett believes a plan to close Coonskin Drive to improve security at state National Guard headquarters could be dead.
Tackett told members of the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission at a regular meeting Wednesday that the 2010 proposal to close off Coonskin Drive and create an alternate entrance to Coonskin Park is no longer part of the federal defense budget.
Tackett, who was sworn in as a member of the parks commission on Wednesday, was asked about the future of the project during Wednesday's meeting. State officials had proposed closing Coonskin Drive in 2010 to improve security at the National Guard facility, but the plan would have cut off access to Coonskin Park.
State officials wanted to build a bridge across the Elk River near Mink Shoals to provide a new entrance to Coonskin. The cost of the project was estimated at about $13 million.
Former U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., had originally secured federal funding for the project. But when Byrd died last year, so did federal support for the plan, Tackett said.
"They didn't want to do it in the first place," Tackett told county parks officials on Wednesday. He said Byrd's clout in Congress had helped secure funding for the project.
When federal defense officials wanted to shut down the 130th Airlift Wing in 2005, a lack of base security was among the arguments made for shutting the base. Coonskin Drive runs right past National Guard headquarters, not far from the air base.
Closing off Coonskin Drive to the public would have solved the security complaint, state officials said.
Tackett said closing the road and building the new bridge to Coonskin Park had been included in the 2015 federal defense budget. But when federal officials began looking for things to cut from the budget, the Coonskin project was one of the things that went.
Current state Adj. Gen. James Hoyer was in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday and unavailable for comment. But Lt. Col. Dave Lester, state National Guard spokesman, confirmed that the project remains on hold because of Department of Defense budget reductions and the federal deficit.
"The West Virginia National Guard will continue to do all the preliminary work to prepare for the building of the bridge and will work with the West Virginia congressional delegation to identify other funding sources outside DoD, such as transportation and infrastructure programs, to fund the construction," Lester said.
Tackett, who is no longer active in the National Guard command structure but still has political connections, also said he would try to help find money for the project.
"I'll see if we can't put a little pressure on Senator [Joe] Manchin and Senator [Jay] Rockefeller and ask that it be put back in," Tackett said. "I still know all the people and all the players in Washington."
State officials don't yet know if the 130th Airlift Wing will again be targeted for closure if base security isn't improved. "I certainly hope not," Tackett said.
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.