SUGAR GROVE, W.Va. — The U.S. Navy’s Sugar Grove Station in Pendleton County will officially close in less than 50 days and what’s next for a large section of that facility is still not clear.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and other state officials are still weighing the possibility of using the Sugar Grove site for a state prison and, as Delegate Isaac Sponaugle (D-Pendleton, 55) sees it, that is the best option for his community and all of West Virginia.
“It’s just a great deal for the state. It takes care of our prison overcrowding and it certainly helps Pendleton County significantly,” Sponaugle said.
The National Security Agency will continue to operate from part of the property which includes 122 acres and 105 buildings.
As for the rest of the property the NSA is not using, those with the state Division of Corrections have proposed repurposing it for a maximum security prison for women with as many as 600 beds at an estimated cost of $19 million.
The federal government would sign over the property itself at no cost only if it’s used for a prison, according to the proposal being considered.
A decision on the prison possibility, which was first proposed more than a year ago, is due by Sept. 4.
Statewide, the Division of Corrections is struggling to fill correctional officer vacancies. One of the reported concerns of state officials is the potential workforce in rural Pendleton County for jobs at any future prison there.
It’s a non-issue in Sponaugle’s view. He said too many people are leaving Pendleton County each day to go to work. “I can’t stress enough how critical it is for this area,” Sponaugle said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
With the Sugar Grove proposal, female inmates would be moved to Pendleton County from Lakin Correctional Center in Mason County, a facility which would then be used for only male inmates, creating more prison space.
Currently, more than 1,000 prison inmates are being housed in West Virginia’s regional jails because there is no available prison space.
Sponaugle said that kind of overcrowding cannot be sustained.
If the state passes on Sugar Grove at this time, “It’s not going to change the fact that there’s going to be a court order, I will guarantee you in the next 10 years, if that, if it goes that long, that the state of West Virginia is going to (have to) build a prison,” Sponaugle predicted.
Building an entirely new prison could cost as much as $200 million, according to the DOC.
Sponaugle argued $19 million in renovations to the Sugar Grove site, much of that for upgrades to reach maximum security requirements, is much more economical.
If West Virginia opts not to take over operations there, the property will be sold at auction.
In addition to the DOC, KVC Health Systems, a nonprofit group based in the Midwest, has been pursuing the Sugar Grove site as a possible location for a specialized career college aimed at young people who are transitioning out of foster care.
More than 200 Navy personnel have been relocated or are in the process of being moved out of Pendleton County ahead of Sugar Grove’s closure on Sept. 30.