Sugar Grove Naval Activity Officially Closes

One of the Sugar Grove base's buildings (file photo).
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PENDLETON COUNTY, W.Va. (WHSV) -- Two of the gigantic satellite dishes at the Sugar Grove Naval Activity in Pendleton County, West Virginia, are more than 100 feet tall. They're visible from as far away as the peak of Reddish Knob. The Navy base is not just large in size and facilities, but also in economic impact as one of the county's biggest employers. At least, it was. At one time, it hosted more than 300 jobs. It recently scaled back to half as many; and on Tuesday it officially closed its doors.

Those living near Sugar Grove said that they're part of a small community where everybody knows everybody. But now, some may have to find a new place to work and even live.

Sugar Grove, the town, depended on the income provided by the Sugar Grove base (officially opened as the Naval Radio Station Sugar Grove in 1969). The ECHELON station's massive dishes, radomes, and even "elephant cage" Wullenweber circular antenna arrays helped the military intercept international electronic intelligence. They also gave area residents plenty of paid work in construction, upkeep, and operations. After being part of the Pendleton community for decades, the activity was officially disestablished in a ceremony Tuesday.

Base leaders said that advances in technology have made it easier to conduct their work with the National Security Agency in other ways, making the base obsolete and leading to its closure. The 115 employees still on staff at the time of closure will be transferred or will need to look for other jobs.

Postmaster Clinton Bowers has lived in Sugar Grove for 61 years. He said the closing will have a huge effect on the community.

"It's going to be astronomical," said Bowers. "The stores, just everything is going to be affected."

Bowers also said he has already started to see empty mailboxes for people who lived on the base. Bowers added that some people may even have to find work all the way in Harrisonburg.

He hopes West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin can reuse the decommissioned facility in the best way possible.