CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia National Guard celebrated a major milestone Thursday. at a groundbreaking ceremony at the 130th Airlift Wing in Charleston for a new $6.2 million bridge.
The span will cross the Elk River at Mink Shoals and create a new entrance into Coonskin Park, eliminating the need for the current entrance that sits in the middle of the National Guard base.
“I think without this bridge both our Air Guard base and our headquarters down there on the Army side would be in danger of the next round of BRAC cuts,” explained state Adjutant General James Hoyer.
It was nine years ago that the 130th Air Lift Wing was targeted by the BRAC Commission for closure. Hoyer said thanks to the dedicated work of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, then-State Adjutant General Alan Tackett, the Kanawha County Commission and the governor’s office, they were able to convince the powers that be in Washington the 130th was too important to national security to lose.
In exchange for being taken off the BRAC list, the Guard had to make certain changes and upgrades. The biggest item on that list was eliminating the traffic that ran through the base into Coonskin, thus eliminating security concerns.
Tackett said Sen. Byrd was working on the funding for a new entrance to Coonskin in June 2010.
“Had Sen. Byrd not died, we’d already had the bridge because it was in his last budget,” explained Tackett.
The Air Force pulled the funding for the project soon after Byrd’s death. Hoyer said that’s when the state and Kanawha County decided the project was a must and came up with the money to fund it.
“I think it’s a great example of what we should be about in this country. West Virginia is setting the example and saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem. We’re going to all work together to fix it and make it happen,” Hoyer said.
Construction on the bridge will begin this month and take about 15 months to complete. The goal is to dedicated the bridge in October 2015, one decade after the base was saved.
“The real winners today are the men and women in uniform that are surrounding you from the 130th Air Lift Wing,” Tackett told the crowd.
The completion of the bridge is the last item to mark off the BRAC list of required improvements. Tackett said that should secure the base and the hundreds of jobs it creates well into the future.