A couple of months ago, retired Adjutant Gen. Allen Tackett warned that the National Guard's 130th Airlift Wing at Yeager Airport might 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 closure of the current road past the Guard's armory complex.
That prospect was dismaying. But now it's even worse. Yeager Director Rick Atkinson says airline service at the hilltop airport could be lost if Yeager is forced to pay $1.2 million for fire-and-rescue protection, which the 130th now provides free. This would require the airport to nearly double its landing fees for airlines.
The current landing fee is $3.67 per thousand pounds. But Atkinson told the Yeager board that losing the Guard's fire service would boost the rate to $6.33.
"If we had a landing fee in the $6 to $7 range, there wouldn't be an airline flying here," he told board members.
He added that loss of the Guard help also would force Yeager to raise terminal rents charged to airlines, another burden that would drive carriers away.
This nightmare must be avoided. The bridge into Coonskin must be built in an attempt to save the Airlift Wing. Here's the background:
Eight years ago, the U.S. Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended closure of the 130th, partly because its security is difficult to maintain. The road to Coonskin passes the National Guard headquarters and its link to the airport military site.
In a massive effort to save the 130th, county, state and federal leaders drafted a plan to erase federal objections. One item was creation of a new Coonskin entrance with a bridge across Elk River at Mink Shoals. This would allow closure of the current road into the park, thus securing the Guard units.
Since then, all parts of the 2005 agreement were met -- except construction of the bridge entrance.
BRAC is scheduled next year to choose another list of military bases to be closed. Unless the Coonskin bridge is built, Gen. Tackett fears that the federal commission will target the 130th again. He suggested bonds and other methods to pay the bridge cost to save the Airlift Wing.
Tackett, a member of the airport board, asked Director Atkinson to assess losses that closure of the unit would inflict on Yeager. The director's response included the ominous prospect of losing airline service.
Losing 1,000 jobs, $89 million yearly economic boost and airline service would be a terrible blow to the Charleston region. Such a setback must be prevented. Regional leaders should arrange funding and build the new Coonskin bridge in an attempt to avoid calamity.