Mich. delegation backs missile site at Fort Custer

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Michigan congressional delegation on Monday sent a letter to the Missile Defense Agency in support of its locating a new missile defense site at Fort Custer in Battle Creek that, when approved by the Pentagon, would protect the East Coast.

Fort Custer is among three sites under consideration for a Continental United States Receptor Site. The defense agency is also looking at Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center in Ohio and Fort Drum in New York.

The project could have an estimated $3.2 billion impact, including $700 million in construction, 300 direct jobs and 1,800 support jobs, according to the letter.

“Given all of these considerations, we strongly support Fort Custer Training Center as the preferred Continental United States Interceptor Site and look forward to staying engaged as the selection process continues,” the members wrote.

All but one member of Michigan’s delegation, Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Cascade Township, signed the letter to Vice Admiral James D. Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency. The Fort Custer site is located in the districts of both Amash and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph.

Amash also believes Fort Custer should be given full consideration as a location for the proposed missile defense site, a spokeswoman said.

“He declined to sign this letter because it treats the matter not as a national security initiative, but as a jobs program,” said Corie Whalen, communications director for Amash. “While increasing employment in Michigan's 3rd District is a priority, defense decisions should be made with only national security priorities in mind.”

The Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency has existing ground-based interceptor sites at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to protect against the threat of intercontinental ballistic missile attacks from nations such as North Korea or Iran.

The agency is studying whether to add a missile defense site that would protect the eastern half of the country, weighing several factors, including an analysis of ballistic missile threats, affordability and potential environmental impacts, according to the draft environmental impact report.

A decision is expected after the Pentagon finalizes the analysis of environmental impacts later this fall.

The draft report found that the environmental impacts at Fort Custer would be minimal and that the Battle Creek site, unlike the others under consideration, would not require additional surveys or cause significant harm to protected species or habitats, according to the delegation’s letter.

“Since 1917, Fort Custer has played an integral part in training our Armed Forces for vital national security missions,” the the eight Republican and seven Democratic members wrote.

“Fort Custer has taken tremendous strides to increase its energy efficiency by installing solar fields and a wind funnel to generate electrical power. These innovative developments help make Fort Custer a cost-effective option for the interceptor site.”

The 7,500-acre Fort Custer is home to training facilities used by the Michigan National Guard and other branches of the armed forces.

Two sites at Fort Custer are under consideration. Each are just over 1,000 acres and largely wooded.

The first site is in both Kalamazoo and Calhoun Counties, north of Interstate 94 and west of Skyline Drive and West Columbia Avenue. It is partially cleared for a 7.62-millimeter training range, which would be moved to another Michigan Army National Guard facility.

The second site, to the west, is in Kalamazoo County and entirely wooded, located north of I-94 between 40th St. and Augusta Climax Road/44th Street.

Gov. Rick Snyder's office has been working with the congressional delegation to promote Fort Custer as a potential missile defense site.

Last year, Upton and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, led a bipartisan tour of Michigan military installations for the delegation that included Fort Custer.

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