Kanawha County will pay to keep the West Virginia National Guard's firefighters on the clock at Yeager Airport for however long the federal government shutdown lasts, commissioners said.
The West Virginia National Guard normally provides about 30 full-time firefighters to man a station at Yeager Airport. But without federal funding the Guard can't provide on-site fire protection, something Yeager needs to stay open to commercial airliners.
The airport would have to send a notice to airlines about the lack of fire protection service, which would all but certainly put a halt to the commercial flights in and out of the area during the shutdown, and maybe longer, said Rick Atkinson, airport director.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper worried such a notice would cause the bigger commercial airlines to discontinue service to Yeager altogether.
Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer said it costs $39,000 a week to pay the firefighters' salaries. He said the state will pay for seven days of service but Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has asked him to work with county and city officials.
The general had to send more than 1,150 of the Guard's full-time employees home Tuesday because of the shutdown. The shutdown also is affecting the payment of those traditional National Guard members who rely on the military for partial income.
"I know this is unbudgeted and a huge amount of money, but we just can't fool around with this," Carper said. "This would make no sense whatsoever to sit here while they're arguing about who's going to pay for something.
"It's our airport, and I think we've got the resources necessary and I'm very confident we'll get reimbursed for it.
"I just can't imagine that this Congress is this irresponsible, though they're certainly demonstrating that they're this irresponsible."
Commissioner Dave Hardy said it seemed like "crisis is the new normal" and called the current situation in Washington "embarrassing." He said there were two incidents at the airport that required Guard response in three weeks in 2009, and both times firefighters responded within minutes.
Among them was a July 2009 incident involving a Southwest Airlines jet with 128 people on board that made an emergency landing after a football-sized hole formed in the fuselage.
"You could hear them coming as soon as the plane stopped," Hardy said. "So, I've been there. I think we need to support it."
The airport is a primary diversionary airfield because of its close proximity to frequently used flight paths but also because of the quick response of the National Guard and easy access to skilled trauma facilities in Charleston, Atkinson said.