EDITORIALS

5 questions to answer before building a missile site in Maine

Posted Sept. 03, 2014, at 2:30 p.m.
This handout image from a Pakistan military shows a medium range ballistic missile Hatf V (Ghauri) being fired during a test at an undisclosed location in Pakistan in this November 2012 file photo.
HANDOUT | REUTERS
This handout image from a Pakistan military shows a medium range ballistic missile Hatf V (Ghauri) being fired during a test at an undisclosed location in Pakistan in this November 2012 file photo.

Will western Maine become home to the country’s newest missile defense site? The Missile Defense Agency, at the behest of Congress, is considering it. It recently held public hearings in Rangeley and Farmington to hear from Maine residents about the potential Continental United Interceptor Site, which would be located at a U.S. Navy facility in mountainous Redington Township.

Its goal would be to protect the United States by having the capacity to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles, such as from Iran or North Korea. The federal government has not yet decided to place the interceptors in Maine or to build an interceptor site at all; it also is considering three other locations — in New York, Ohio and Michigan — and is starting environmental impact studies.

The Department of Defense doesn’t have many conclusive details yet about the project and its impact, so here are some questions that need answering before the project moves forward.

Safety

Could having the missiles here make Maine a target in any way? What are the potential health and environmental risks associated with building, decommissioning and deploying missiles?

Cost

The nation’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense system has been in operation about a decade and has so far cost about $40 billion. At a time when defense spending is being curbed, is it worth adding another launch site at a cost of several billion more dollars, or could that money be better spent elsewhere, with a greater return?

Necessity

Land-based interceptors exist in Alaska and California, and Pentagon officials have said another site is not needed.

“There is no validated military requirement to deploy an East Coast missile-defense site,” said Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, with Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, in a 2013 letter to Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan. “While a potential East Coast site would add operational capability, it would also come at significant materiel development and service sustainment cost.”

What are the reasons why, then, the government should pursue one? Again, is this the best use of limited federal dollars?

Accuracy

How accurate would such interceptor missiles be? The track record is not good: Of 17 tests to intercept a target, about half have failed. Is it worth having the site if the missiles might not work?

Local effect

The site could house up to 60 missiles and could require upgrades to roads, housing and power plants. What would be the local economic impact? How would it help residents who live nearby? How would it harm them?

Maine residents have recently fought against wind turbines on inland hills, a railyard in Brunswick, a liquefied natural gas import terminal in Washington County’s Robbinston, a liquid propane gas terminal and storage tank in Searsport, a bigger Rockport library and the shipping of tar sands from South Portland harbor. Many of the same concerns should be raised about the proposed missile site.

These questions — and others — need to be answered before Maine decides whether to support a missile site.

 

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