The future of a Navy Information Operations Command base in Pendleton County remains cloudy, as federal leaders look at cost-cutting measures.
The National Security Agency may continue the base's operations at the upper facility, but downsize or even eliminate the lower portion of the base that has been there since the mid-1950s.
"We are meeting with the Navy to find out their intent and if there are any additional uses for the base," U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said. "It is vital to that county. The assets we have there are of value not just to West Virginia, but to America."
The base near the Virginia border is home to nearly 200 military personnel and provides more than 100 civilian jobs. It is located in the National Radio Quiet Zone, enabling it to monitor the communications of Navy ships, planes and stations around the world.
Fellow U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., expressed disappointment that the NSA is considering the move, saying he has asked members of the Department of Defense to visit the Sugar Grove base before making any final moves. He said changing strategies and budgetary concerns are forcing federal leaders to make decisions that impact military operations around the world.
"Sugar Grove is a national asset that absolutely can and should continue to operate in West Virginia, even if its mission must change," a statement from Rockefeller's office read. "The complex can continue to provide the government with facilities, equipment and human capital to carry out a national mission at an affordable and secure location."
The potential effects of the base's reduction in force or possible closing would have a major impact across Pendleton County's rural landscape. According to statistics from the 2011-2012 school year, 51 of the 140 students at Brandywine Elementary School had ties in some way to the Navy base. Across the county system, 103 of the county's 1,042 students were connected in some way to the Navy base, whether it be with civilian employees or those in uniform. The Navy base brings around $15,000 in population-based federal aid to the county school system.
The Sugar Grove base was initiated in 1955 as a Naval Research Laboratory. In 1962, it became a radio receiving station, and in 1992, it became part of the Naval Security Group Activity. A name change to the NIOSC was made in 2005.
"I am very confident we will be able to maintain a presence in Pendleton County in some way," Manchin said.
U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, whose Congressional District includes Pendleton County, was unavailable for comment.