Delegation supports Fort Custer missile site

BATTLE CREEK, MICH. - The Michigan Congressional Delegation is again supporting the placement of a missile defense site in Battle Creek.

In a letter Monday, 15 of the 16 members of the delegation urged the director of the Missile Defense Agency to select Fort Custer as a site for missile interceptors.

Battle Creek is one of three remaining sites for the facility, which would have an estimated $3.2 billion economic impact and bring hundreds of jobs if placed in this area. The final site selection is expected to be announced early next year, although neither the Department of Defense nor Congress has approved adding a new missile site.

In its letter to Vice Admiral James Syring of the MDA  in Fort Belvoir, Va., the delegation said an evaluation shows environmental impact would be minimal at Fort Custer Training Center and selecting the site would not harm protected species or habitats.

The delegation wrote:

"It’s our understanding that you have completed your assessment of the environmental impacts for a missile defense Interceptor Site at Fort Custer Training Center, one of three remaining locations under consideration. The assessment showed that the environmental impacts for placing an interceptor at Fort Custer would be minimal and that unlike the other sites, Fort Custer would not require additional surveys or cause significant harm to protected species or habitats.

As you know, the community had the opportunity to meet with the Missile Defense Agency, ask questions about the draft assessment and submit remarks before the public comment period closed on August 17. We have heard from numerous organizations and leaders in the community and want to emphasize the strong local support for Fort Custer as the host location."

Both Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and 13 of 14 members of the House of Representatives signed the letter. The only name missing from the letter is U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids, whose district includes Battle Creek.

In a statement, Corie Whalen, a spokeswoman for Amash,  said while he didn't sign the letter, the congressman thinks Fort Custer should be considered as a site.

"Representative Amash has always believed Fort Custer should be given full consideration as a potential location for the proposed missile defense site," Whalen said. "He declined to sign this letter because it treats the matter not as a national security initiative, but as a jobs program. While increasing employment in Michigan's Third District is a priority, defense decisions should be made with only national security priorities in mind."

In their letter to Vice Admiral Syring, the other members of the delegation noted that "locating the interceptor at Fort Custer would bring a welcomed $3.2 billion in economic impact, including $700 million in new construction. It would also employ 300 jobs directly and up to 1,800 support jobs."

The government has proposed placing as many as 60 missiles at the site to protect the East Coast of the United States from enemy ballistic missiles. The U.S. missiles would not be equipped with warheads but are designed to collide with and destroy incoming missiles.

Critics such as the Union of Concerned Scientists have said the program is not effective and too expensive. In a report in July, the UCS said in nine tests since 2004 only three missiles struck their targets. They estimated the program could cost $40 billion.

Two sites at Fort Custer, each over 800 acres, are being considered. Sites at Fort Drum in New York and Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center in Ohio are competing with Battle Creek.

During stops for a Saturday dedication of a new facility to fly remotely piloted aircraft or drones at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, both Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and Republican Rep. Fred Upton said they continue to support selecting Battle Creek as a missile site.

"This is the best place to have a missile defense of anywhere in the country," Peters said. "There is no better combination of support than the Battle Creek community."

And Upton said, "all of us in the (congressional) delegation are fighting hard to establish this as an eastern U.S. missile defense site. I think that can happen."

And Major General Gregory Vadnais, adjutant general and director of the Michigan National Guard, said Saturday his department is working to attract the missile defense site to Fort Custer and praised the support of the local community.

"I know of no community that has gone out and put their arms around it embraced like Battle Creek has," he said.

Battle Creek Enquirer


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