The terminal building at West Virginia International Yeager Airport in Charleston. (Photo/Yeager Airport)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The project to extend the runway at West Virginia’s busiest airport is being paused for now to focus on another major undertaking.

Charleston-based Yeager Airport announced Wednesday it’s now going to focus its efforts on securing federal funding to modernize its 77-year-old terminal building.

Yeager Airport Director and CEO Dominque Ranieri said they made the decision to pause the nearly two-year-old Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) work for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the terminal. She said the Airfield portion of the multi-faceted project to improve the airport will specifically be paused to allow for additional planning to be conducted.

Dominique Ranieri

“This just gives us extra time for planning to make sure we are doing the right thing for the future of the airport, and this gives us the opportunity to move forward with a major terminal project and compete for those BIL – ATP funds,” Ranieri told MetroNews.

CRW is now making a push for terminal grant funding through the FAA’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – Airport Terminal Program (BIL – ATP). The program provides competitive grants of $1 billion overall per year for airport terminal development projects– that address the aging infrastructure of U.S. airports– for a total of $5 billion in allocation from 2022 to 2026.

Ranieri said they are excited about that project’s prospects.

“CRW greatly appreciates the support the EIS process has received from the FAA, Senator Manchin, Senator Capito, and Congresswoman Miller,” Ranieri said. “We are very excited for the future and the possibility of upgrades to our terminal building.”

There’s been a community effort protesting the proposed runway expansion to 7,000 feet because it would impact Coonskin Park.

An environmental protection group known as Save Coonskin Park was formed in response, and their aim has been about getting the word out about the project and raising awareness of the many environmental damages it could potentially bring to the park.

Group spokesperson Jeremy Severn previously told MetroNews the proposal would be devastating for the park.

“It would end up kind of looking like a mountaintop removal coal mine site that would then be used as fill dirt to fill in the valley to extend the runway into the park,” he said.

“The biggest argument against it is that the airport does not need this longer runway to continue to service our area, and so they’re going to permanently take a park what was built for the citizens of Charleston,” Severn added

Once word got out that the airfield project was being put on pause, however, Severn said that it’s great news for them as saving the park from having a runway cutting through it has been their goal all along.

“For at least a temporary win here to be able to save that greenspace and to save our mountain tops, even though they are using the word ‘pause,’ it is definitely a win for us in this battle,” he told MetroNews Wednesday.

Severn went on to say that it’s not a matter of if or when the airport decides to pick back up on the runway project, however, it’s a matter of continuing to do everything the group can to stop it or something like it right now from ever happening again.

Those with Save Coonskin Park held a rally last August. (Photo/WCHS-TV)

“If and when Save Coonskin wins this battle of saving the park, what will our next steps be in trying to keep this from coming back up in the future, and so if this is a temporary winning this battle, we need to continue to focus on the war,” he said.

Severn said after acquiring 11,000 signatures on a petition the group launched last year to help save the park, as well as a Facebook group that has over 8,500 members, he said they definitely have the support to continue the fight if they need to.

However, airport authority board members expressed their concern at Wednesday’s meeting for pushing back the airfield portion of the project and shifting focus to the terminal, as they feel runway expansion needs to be the bigger priority in accommodating the larger aircrafts that are flying into the airport on a daily basis. Longtime airport board member Allen Tackett said that renovating the terminal would be like putting lipstick on a pig.

But, Ranieri said the terminal improvement project would also help to accomodate those aircraft carriers, as it will include adding on a large one-level hold room containing the right sized gate areas and jet bridges for the carriers.

She said the terminal project will move quickly as they know exactly where their priorities lie.

“We’re in a 77-year old building our priorities are, you know, our check point, our TSA check point is too narrow, so that’s priority number one getting the right sized check point for the facility, so that immediately improves the customer experience,” Ranieri said.

She said while some of the gates may have to be relocated, everything will stay open for airport customers during the renovation process of the terminal.

Ranieri could not give a specified date on when the terminal project would get underway.