CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coonskin Park will get a new entrance and bridge as part of an improvement package meant to secure the future of the West Virginia Air National Guard's 130th Airlift Wing in Charleston, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Monday.
Tomblin joined West Virginia National Guard Adj. Gen. James Hoyer, as well as state and local leaders, at the base on Coonskin Drive late Monday afternoon to announce the improvement plan.
The plan is designed to correct the last remaining concerns brought up by the 2005 federal Base Realignment and Closure report, which almost resulted in the shuttering of Charleston Air National Guard operations.
Late U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd played a pivotal role in keeping the 130th Airlift Wing base open in 2005. The next round of federal base closure studies is expected to begin in 2015, which gives state and local officials time to move forward with the improvements.
Tomblin said the improvement measures are being funded through collaboration with federal, state, local and private groups, all of which were intent on keeping West Virginia's National Guard operations strong.
"It didn't come about because of one person or individual, but it came about because of teamwork," Tomblin said. "I think it's a great day for the 130th here in Charleston."
The plan calls for closing the current entrance to Coonskin Park, and building a new bridge in the Mink Shoals area to carry traffic across the Elk River to a new entrance to the park.
Closing the current Coonskin Drive entrance will allow the Guard to close off and operate a secure entrance to the base - a key issue in the BRAC report.
The Kanawha County Commission and Yeager Airport's board have each pledged about $1.5 million to the project, which would be put out to bid later this year.
Commission President Kent Carper said that with 1,100 jobs tied to the air base alone, the state couldn't afford to lose the facility.
"It's an $89 million economic engine for this whole state," Carper said. "It would be an unrecoverable blow."
Just as they did in 2005, Carper said leaders must be focused on doing what they can to keep the base open.
"I don't see what else could be more important," Carper said.
Tomblin estimated the bridge project would cost $9 million to $11 million. He said the remaining funding would come from unappropriated funds within the Division of Highways and National Guard budgets.
The second part of the plan involves building a new 60-foot-wide, 4,200-foot-long dirt airstrip on the former Coal Branch mine in Logan County that will be used by Guard members for flight practice.