FRANKLIN –The NIOC Sugar Grove Naval Base was awarded to the West Virginia Division of Corrections by the United States General Services Administration in early May 2015. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has not made a decision to authorize the Division of Corrections to accept the base, which is scheduled to close on September 30, 2015.
“I was thrilled that the Division of Corrections was awarded this beautiful facility at no cost to the taxpayers of West Virginia. However, I am deeply troubled over the inaction thus far by the Governor to authorize the State of West Virginia to accept title to the base. Literally hundreds of jobs and an entire county have been placed in limbo for months waiting on him to approve the transaction. It would be unprecedented in the history of the General Services Administration agency for any state to turn down property that has been awarded to it,” said West Virginia Delegate Isaac Sponaugle.
The Sugar Grove Naval Base is a 122 acre facility with 105 buildings including residential housing. The approximate value of the entire facility is in excess of $200 million dollars. The base had employed in excess of 300 people, including sailors and civilians, but those numbers have significantly decreased as the closure date of the base has approached with employees receiving transfer orders or leaving for other employment in preparation of the closure.
“The closure of the Sugar Grove Naval Base has been a major disaster for the general population base and the economic well-being of Pendleton County. The Division of Corrections, by taking over the base, not only alleviates the fallout of the closure, but will provide a solid foundation for Pendleton County moving forward,” said Sponaugle.
The Division of Corrections plans on utilizing the base as a prison that will ultimately house slightly more than 600 women in the facility. Security levels would range from minimum to maximum. The new prison will employ approximately 250 people directly and provide numerous indirect employment opportunities for support services. The estimated cost of modifying the base to a prison is approximately $19 million dollars. The construction process to modify the base to a prison will occur in phases over several years. The estimated minimal cost for the State of West Virginia to build a new prison is $220 million dollars. The State of West Virginia faces a prison overcrowding issue with approximately 1,300 inmates being housed in regional jails due to a lack of space within the Division of Corrections facilities with that number expected to increase to 1,800 over the next three years.
“After all federal agencies declined interest in the base then state agencies were afforded the next opportunity to apply with the General Services Administration for ownership of the base. If the State of West Virginia does not accept the transfer of the base then it will proceed to a public auction, under federal law, which may not occur for 12 to 24 months after the closure date. The facility will be stripped, boarded up and allowed to deteriorate as it awaits its fate on the auction block. This will be a total unmitigated disaster for Pendleton County and I can’t comprehend why the Governor would even consider intentionally inflicting that type of pain onto the county. If the State accepts title to the base then we’re able to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone. This solves West Virginia’s overcrowding issue at a minimal cost to the State and secures Pendleton County by finding a financially sound employer to operate the facility that will ultimately employ a similar number of employees as the United States Navy,” said Sponaugle.
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