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Ex-WV Navy base may be used for refugee children

SUGAR GROVE, W.Va. — The former Sugar Grove Navy base is only one of several properties the Department of Health and Human Services is assessing to use as a temporary shelter for unaccompanied refugee children, West Virginia Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, said.

“There’s no need to panic,” he said following a conference call with the DHHS and other legislators. “The General Service Administration still is going through with its disposal process of an online auction until the feds make their decision. The Sugar Grove Station is one of numerous properties the HSS is looking at.”

The 122-acre former base, which closed in October, was put up for auction online by the GSA on Feb 9.

Sponaugle said investigators will be at the base next week, with a decision possible sometime in the middle of March.

If the base makes the first line of cuts, then the HHS would come into the community and discuss it.

“They’re just doing their preliminary homework. First, the base has to make the first cut, then it still may not be chosen,” Sponaugle said.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services office emailed state and local elected officials on Feb. 12 that it plans a preliminary assessment of the Sugar Grove base to use as a temporary shelter for unaccompanied refugee children.

The ORR needs a contingency plan to expand its capacity to provide shelter for the high number of and potential increases in apprehensions of unaccompanied children at the U. S. southern border, Sponaugle said.

ORR wrote in the email that this is a, “Prudent step to ensure that ORR is able to meet its responsibility, by law, to provide shelter for these children referred to its care by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and so that the U.S. Border Patrol can continue its national security mission to prevent illegal migration, trafficking and protect the borders of the United States.”

The site assessment will include representatives from the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, the facility and safety officials. It will evaluate the viability of the facility for use as a temporary shelter for unaccompanied children.

Taking a position now on the base being used for minor refugees is, “premature,” Sponaugle said. “It’s a long way before it would become possible. The likelihood is Sugar Grove will be sold, I hope, by the end of the year,” Sponaugle said.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has “concerns about the consideration of the Sugar Grove Navy Base as a shelter for undocumented immigrant children in West Virginia.”

She looks forward to working with local officials to address questions about the burden this facility would place on taxpayers and local infrastructure. Rather than housing these children in West Virginia, Capito believes, “We should focus on reuniting them with family in their home countries and better enforcing our immigration laws.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III, said he was hopeful that the property will be put into productive use to create good-paying jobs that the residents of the community will be proud to support.

“I strongly believe that the community should have input into how their tax dollars will be spent at Sugar Grove and the impact a new tenant will have on the region and state. I will not be supportive of any applications that do not give full consideration to the impact on the community,” Manchin said.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s spokesman Christopher P. Stadelman said the evaluation of the base is just beginning and DHHS officials have assured the governor that it will continue to communicate with state and local officials as the process continues.

“We do not know when a decision regarding the feasibility may be made or whether that decision would result in any children actually being placed at Sugar Grove,” Stadelman said.

Pendleton County Commission President Gene McConnell said the County Commission is on record as being concerned and non-supportive of this use of the base.

His biggest concern is the lack of information as to what is expected of the county, which does not have the needed infrastructure to support the refugee minors, such as social services, transportation, schooling, emergency services and law enforcement.

Another concern is that the children are undocumented with no birth certificates or passports.

“There is no way to vet them as to who they are, even as to age or country of origin. There’s no paperwork,” McConnell said.

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