SUGAR GROVE - Local business and community leaders oppose the phase-out of the Mountaineer Navy at the Naval Information Operations Command by the National Security Agency, and state legislators are working to protect the facility and its jobs.
"There would not be any of our community that would not be impacted - that includes business, service organizations, on down to churches and schools. It will be a huge impact - local jobs and money that Naval personnel bring into the community," Franklin businesswoman Rebecca Lough said.
Cmdr. William Kramer told community officials the NSA announced that it conducted an "enterprise assessment" that looks at "reducing the footprint" of the U.S. Navy at Sugar Grove and in time will "transition the Navy presence out altogether."
The NSA intends to downsize the mission of the 330-person Sugar Grove operation as a result of a NSA-wide realignment of personnel and resources, officials said.
Federal law requires the Navy to find another tenant for the base, said Kramer, who is the base commander.
The five-point procedure searches first in the Navy, then in another military branch, then in the Department of Defense, then in state government, and lastly the private sector for a replacement. The new tenant has not been determined yet, Kramer said.
"I trust the process will be followed to find a new tenant, and it's bounded by law," said Kramer, who plans to "articulate to the public through local leaders and the media to get current word and updates out there to dispel any rumors."
Kramer has a tentative date of Oct. 15, 2015 to "disestablish" his command, he added.
The Pendleton County Commission sent letters to Sen. Joe Manchin, Sen. John D. Rockefeller, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito and Congressman David McKinley soliciting their assistance in "either preventing or mitigating this potential loss to the fragile economic fabric" of Pendleton County.
The possible loss of more than 300 high-paying jobs "would be devastating during the best of times," but in the current economic climate there is no possibility of "absorbing these displaced workers" in Pendleton or any other close county, the letter signed by Commission President Carl Hevener stated.
The commission strongly urged an alternative solution to relieve the stress on the community.
Rockefeller and Manchin announced that last week they coordinated a meeting with officials from the National Security Agency and Navy to discuss the importance of maintaining the command at Sugar Grove and keeping jobs at the facility.
Rockefeller said he has been working with United States Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Cater to protect jobs and maintain infrastructure in the community, and to get more clarity about the potential downsizing.
"At last week's meeting with NSA and Navy, our offices requested that the Defense Department visit the Sugar Grove facility so that military officials can get a firsthand account of the importance of this facility to the local, regional, and state economy - as well as to our national defense," Rockefeller said in a press release. "I realize the tight budgets that everyone faces right now, but the dedicated West Virginians who work at Sugar Grove have been helping to keep our country safe for decades. I will continue to fight for them."
Manchin assured the community that no final decisions have been made about the future of the facility.
"I've seen the work at Sugar Grove, and there is no question that this facility provides essential resources for our military and national security, along with the community," Manchin said in a press release. "I have been in direct contact with the secretary of the Navy and I will continue to work with the highest levels of our military and national security leadership to make sure that Sugar Grove remains a vital part of America's defense."
Capito has been in contact with the Department of Defense regarding the status of the base.
"We will work to ensure that the Sugar Grove Naval facility remains an integral part of Pendleton County as it has been for four decades," Capito said in a press release. "We need to repurpose to a like facility."
Pendleton Superintendent of Education Doug Lambert said the Navy has been a great community partner.
"We've relished the relationship we've had with the military. We're very disappointed that this is the path that has been taken but understand the dilemma," Lambert said.
The 51 Navy-connected students at Brandywine Elementary School, the closest to the base, total 38.64 percent of that student body. Throughout the school system, 10.06 percent of the students have parents employed at the base.
These students with their parents will be uprooted to new locations, a daunting thought to one parent whose child is in middle school and would like to finish high school here. "I don't have to worry about his safety here (but) it will make a huge difference if I have to go somewhere else to work," she said.
Retired Navy Cmdr. Robert Pliska is one of many military retirees who live near the base for its amenities, such as the medical dispensary, commissary and exchange. "I feel they are losing a secure secluded area to operate whatever they are going to operate," he said.
The Pendleton County Economic and Community Development Authority sent letters to state politicians stating the negative loss to the local economy and emphasizing the Navy's "untold hours" of volunteer community service in emergency services, schools, little league and other local activities.
County Commissioner Gene McConnell said the county could end up with a net positive. The 180-acre lower base would make a "wonderful convalescent facility for wounded veterans. The locale is perfect, and we already have a strong local Wounded Warrior group.
"We're really good at care-giving - it could be a new industry!" McConnell said. "I refuse to look at this as the end of the world. We need to focus our efforts on getting something good here."