Feds schedule Maine hearings on impact of possible missile defense site

Posted July 30, 2014, at 2:35 p.m.
Last modified July 30, 2014, at 4:45 p.m.

FARMINGTON, Maine — The Department of Defense is asking for public input as it prepares environmental impact statements for U.S. locations being considered for potential missile defense sites, including one in Maine.

The Department of Defense’s Missile Defense Agency is eyeing a U.S. Navy facility in Redington Township, near Rangeley, as a potential home for a Continental United States Interceptor Site. Known as the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school, the Navy uses the western Maine facility as a cold-weather training ground.

The missile site would be “capable of protecting the homeland against threats from nations, such as North Korea and Iran,” by shooting enemy intercontinental ballistic missiles out of the skies, according to the Department of Defense.

The Department of Defense has not yet made a decision to deploy or build the system but is entering early stages by studying the potential environmental impacts on the potential sites, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

One of the early steps in that process is a public hearing and comments period. There are four meetings scheduled in the Rangeley area. The first is from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Aug. 12 at the Rangeley Lakes Regional School gymnasium. The next meeting will be held in the same place from 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 13. On Aug. 14, there will be two separate meetings at the Olsen Student Center at the University of Maine at Farmington, one from 9 a.m. to noon and the other from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

These are “scoping” meetings, meaning they’ll help determine the scope and types of environmental issues that will be explored in future environmental studies.

The site would initially include about 20 ground-based interceptor missiles and could expand up to 60 missiles if needed, according to the Department of Defense. There would be no test firing of the missiles from that site, and the missiles would only be launched if the nation needed to be defended from an incoming attack.

Previously, there was speculation that the Department of Defense was considering reviving the missile site at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone. That site was home to a Nike-Hercules surface-to-air missile system until it closed in 1994. Last Fall, federal officials announced Loring was no longer in the running for the new interceptor site. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a senior member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said last year she would continue to press the Department of Defense to consider Loring as a potential location for an additional radar site to buoy a future East Coast missile site.

“In her many conversations with Adm. James Syring, the director of the Missile Defense Agency, Sen. Collins has emphasized that any decision to ultimately locate a missile interceptor site in Maine, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, must have support from those who actually live in the area,” Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley said Wednesday afternoon.

Kelley said that a 2012 report by the National Research Council found “significant gaps in our nation’s ballistic missile defense system, particularly when it comes to protecting the East Coast.”

Last year, budget cuts brought into question whether the U.S. could even afford to build the system in the near future. Missile defense experts say it would cost well over $1 billion, possibly as much as $5 billion to build an additional site.

The idea of more missiles already has met resistance from several groups. The Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space issued a statement Tuesday that called into question the effectiveness of missile defense programs because of the “sheer difficulty of trying to have a bullet hit a bullet in deep space at more than 15,000 mph.”

“In the end, the program is incredibly destabilizing as the entire [missile defense] program is all about being the shield to take out Russian or Chinese retaliatory responses after a Pentagon first-strike on them,” the network argued.

It also is possible a site near Rangeley could meet resistance because of its proximity to ski resorts.

The other three U.S. locations being considered for the CIS — Fort Custer Training Center, Augusta, Michigan; Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center, Portage and Trumbull counties, Ohio; and Fort Drum, New York; — also are holding meetings about the environmental impact statement.

Comments will be accepted until Sept. 15. Those who cannot attend one of the meetings may send written comments, statements or concerns regarding the environmental impact to MDA CIS EIS and by email to MDA.CIS.EIS@BV.COM, by fax to 913-458-1091, or by mail to Black & Veatch Special Projects Corp. Attn: MDACIS EIS, 6601 College Blvd., Overland Park, Kansas 66211-1504. Email or fax is preferred.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.

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