Hurrah for everyone -- Gov. Tomblin, Kanawha Commissioner Kent Carper, retired Gen. Allen Tackett, the Yeager Airport board, the West Virginia National Guard, the County Commission, the state Division of Highways, Aracoma Coal Co., Natural Resource Partners and all others -- who united in a plan for a new Coonskin Park bridge and Logan County landing strip in hope of saving Charleston's 130th Airlift Wing.
Carper pointed out that more than 1,000 local jobs hang in the balance. "It's an $89 million economic engine for this whole state," he said. "It would be an unrecoverable blow" if the hilltop air base were closed.
Now that this landmark teamwork has been launched, we hope it proceeds swiftly and prevents loss of the vital airlift wing. Here's the background:
After the Cold War ended, America's need for military might receded, and the U.S. Base Realignment and Closure Commission began eliminating excess facilities. In 2005, BRAC recommended shutting down Charleston's 130th Airlift Wing. BRAC cited several shortcomings, including poor security because the public road to Coonskin Park goes through the National Guard Armory complex.
Fearing the loss of so many local jobs and economic benefits, Kanawha leaders launched an all-out effort to reverse the closure. Sen. Robert C. Byrd wielded his power on Capitol Hill. Eventually, a compromise was reached in which West Virginia promised several corrections, and the base was saved.
However, two of the corrections never developed. One was a new Elk River bridge entrance into Coonskin Park, to enable closure of the public road penetrating the Guard complex. Another was a new short-field landing strip within 50 miles of Yeager.
A few months ago, Gen. Tackett -- this newspaper's 2010 West Virginian of the Year -- warned that BRAC is heading for another round of base closures, and it may eliminate the 130th if those final corrections remain undone.
His alarm spurred hasty action, culminating in the rescue plan announced Monday. Under the cooperative strategy, the Kanawha Commission and Yeager Airport board each will provide $1.5 million toward the bridge cost, and the rest will come from the National Guard and the state Division of Highways.
Meanwhile, the extra landing strip is to be created at a Logan County mountaintop removal mine site, thanks to a land-use agreement with coal companies.
It's gratifying that so many different West Virginia agencies and firms joined in this rescue operation. We hope it will be enough to persuade federal base-closers to let West Virginia's 130th Airlift Wing continue to fill its crucial role for the state capital region.