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Concerns over Charleston base's security go back to 2002

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In their drive to get the Coonskin Drive entrance to the 130th Airlift Wing and West Virginia National Guard facilities closed, Guard officials repeatedly have said the security issue was raised by federal officials who tried to close the base in 2005.

However, the federal Base Closure Realignment Commission, or BRAC, report doesn't specifically mention the Coonskin Drive entrance.

"We've known that we've got to fix that vulnerability or, eventually it's going to catch up with us and they're going to close our air base," Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, state adjutant general, said recently. "We survived the 2005 BRAC, despite that vulnerability still being out there."

In 2005, the BRAC recommended shutting down the 130th Airlift Wing. Federal, state and local officials launched an effort to save the base and succeeded with a large boost from the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.

Base security was not one of the reasons for closure given in the BRAC report, although local leaders have, on several occasions, said that it was.

"We have mitigated everything raised in that BRAC report, except for that bridge," former West Virginia National Guard adjutant general Allen Tackett told Yeager Airport board members in April.

Although base security was not specifically mentioned in the BRAC report, Hoyer said BRAC officials were well aware of security problems at the 130th and at other Army and Air Force National Guard facilities on Coonskin Drive.

National Guard officials first noted security problems with the Coonskin Drive facilities in an internal vulnerability assessment done after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "The [assessment] that initially pointed it out goes back to 2002," Hoyer said.

Before 9/11, Hoyer said the military's attention was on protecting bases and facilities outside the United States. After 9/11, federal officials began looking at security at facilities inside the country, including the 130th Airlift Wing and nearby headquarters facilities.

The security issues found by the National Guard at Coonskin were mirrored in a report by the Air Force Vulnerability Assessment Team in 2003. In 2006, a federal Joint Staff Integrated Vulnerability Assessment was done that found the same issues. The Joint Staff assessment team answers to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the entire U.S. military.

Those findings were repeated again in an Air Force Vulnerability Assessment in 2009 and by the Joint Staff Assessment team in 2012. Hoyer said the same security concerns have been found every year since 2002 by state officials, the Air Force or the Joint Staff.

Exact details of the vulnerability assessments are classified, Guard officials said, but based on the findings, they started planning ways to correct the problems.

"We have looked building by building at the vulnerabilities that exist," Hoyer said. "This isn't just about the air base, it's about the two armory complexes along Coonskin Drive."

The biggest security problem for the 130th and other National Guard facilities on Coonskin Drive is that the road runs within a few yards of the buildings where about 800 people work, according to Guard officials. Federal officials believe the greatest threat to government installations around the country is from bombs hidden in cars or trucks.

The Department of Defense sets up requirements for the protection of military bases, including National Guard facilities. According to Hoyer, federal officials require a buffer zone of 148 feet around government facilities, to protect against attack. That standoff distance was increased to 262 feet in 2012.

DOD Directive 2000.12 requires all military branches to provide anti-terrorism protection for their facilities, according to an internal West Virginia National Guard report drawn up to address the security issues on Coonskin Drive. DOD Instruction 2000.16 sets minimum standards for facility protection, according to the same internal National Guard report.

"The 130th Airlift Wing and [neighboring facilities] vulnerabilities do not meet minimum [federal] standards," the internal report states.

Hoyer said the security issues on Coonskin Drive became more pressing after the 2005 BRAC report came out.

Although the BRAC report does not talk directly about security concerns on Coonskin Drive, that same year, the BRAC team recommended closing Onizuka Air Force Station, in Sunnyvale, Calif. The 2005 BRAC report recommending the closure of Onizuka was based partly on the facility's lack of a security buffer.

One of the Air Force's main satellite tracking stations, Onizuka was located in an urban area surrounded by roads and other buildings.

Like the 130th Airlift Wing and the National Guard facilities on Coonskin Drive, Onizuka did not meet federal minimum standards for force-protection standoff distances. The station closed for good in 2010.

Unlike the West Virginia National Guard facilities on Coonskin Drive, Hoyer said, Onizuka didn't have anywhere to create a buffer zone. The Coonskin facilities do.

"We need to close Coonskin Drive," Hoyer said.

State and local officials want to close Coonskin Drive to the public near the existing entrance to the 130th Airlift Wing and build a security gate. An alternate entrance to Coonskin Park would be built on the northern end of the park, with access from a new bridge to be built across the Elk River in the Mink Shoals area.

Hoyer said the plan, with an estimated cost of about $9 million, would create the necessary buffer zone to protect the National Guard's buildings on Coonskin Drive.

He said the only other way to meet federal requirements would be to tear down the National Guard facilities and move them farther away from Coonskin Drive. That approach would cost far more than a bridge and a security gate, and it assumes there's land available that far away from the road.

"You either close off the road," Hoyer said, "or you tear down the buildings."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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