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Delegation pushes for Michigan missile defense site

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Michigan delegation's senior senator and longest-serving House Republican said Friday they are working to convince the Pentagon to locate a $3 billion missile defense site in Battle Creek.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said members are working with Gov. Rick Snyder's office to win the Pentagon competition. Upton said the facility would add thousands of construction jobs and said the state is in competition with Ohio and two other states after initially about a half-dozen states were in the mix.

The other two sites reportedly are Fort Drum, New York, and Portsmouth, Maine.

"We're in the official hunt," Upton said, noting that the last defense bill called for a new missile defense site.

The Defense Department's Missile Defense Agency already has Ground-based Midcourse Defense systems located at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California and Fort Greeley in Alaska. There are 26 missile interceptors in Alaska and four in California, according to the agency, designed to pick off medium-range to long-range missiles from rogue nations such as North Korea.

The agency is studying whether to add a missile defense site that would protect the eastern half of the country. The study of environmental impacts of the four sites is scheduled to be completed within a year.

Snyder's office confirmed their involvement in the lobbying effort and promoted the Battle Creek site.

"We're actively working on this with our congressional delegation and other partners," Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Friday. "Battle Creek and Michigan would make the perfect site and harness so many of the region's and state's strengths — a talented and skilled workforce, infrastructure and defense — while meeting an important need for the country."

Upton said the facility could be located at the 7,500-acre Fort Custer, which is currently home to training facilities that are used by the Michigan National Guard and other branches of the armed forces. Fort Custer Training Center is home to the 177th Regiment, Regional Training Institute, and the Regional Maintenance Training Site.

Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Fort Custer is a great site near Interstate 94 and has a 10,000-foot runway.

Stabenow said the project could be a big economic boost. Upton's office has said 300 full-time jobs could be involved.

"Battle Creek is definitely in the running," Stabenow said. "It would fit perfectly" with the existing facilities at Fort Custer, she said.

The site has bipartisan support from the rest of the Michigan delegation, which also plans to send a letter in support of the project.

The White House is seeking $8.2 billion for missile defense efforts, up 3 percent from the 2014 budget year. The Pentagon wants $1.8 billion for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program to continue the development and operation of the defense weapon system, which includes the planned addition of 14 ground-based interceptors in Alaska by the end of 2017.

Michigan's Republican-controlled Legislature appears to be preparing to back the push. State Rep. David Maturen this week urged the federal government to select the Fort Custer for its new ground-based interceptor ballistic missile defense mission, introducing a resolution calling on the Department of Defense's Missile Defense Agency to choose the Fort Custer location over the three other options.

"Fort Custer has been a vital asset to our community for decades, employing many of our friends and family members," said Maturen, R-Brady Township, a community outside of Kalamazoo. "By choosing the center for the location of the new missile defense system, it has been estimated that $700 million in new construction and 2,100 jobs could be seen in Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties."

The ground-based interceptor ballistic missile defense system protects the state and nation by identifying and destroying limited intermediate and long-range ballistic missile threats, Maturen said.

"Selecting Fort Custer would take full advantage of the center's tactical location and security," he said. "The state and local community is prepared to support the construction and operation of the system, as well as the additional military personnel who will maintain it."

Upton said the Michigan delegation hopes to meet every other month to talk about issues where Democrats and Republicans can work together "across the state." Snyder's D.C. director, Bill McBride, also takes part in the meetings.

The members also talked about legislation to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from entering the Great Lakes, the fate of A-10 airplanes at Selfridge Air National Guard Base that the Obama administration wants to cut, trade agreements and other economic issues.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said the five freshmen members of Congress have pushed for meetings and looked for ways to work together on Michigan issues. The five went to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and plan a future visit to Rep. John Moolenaar's central Michigan district.

Moolenaar, R-Midland, said the meeting was a great way to learn about the priorities of individual members. The delegation is "going to work together on as many of these issues as we can," he said.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, called it "a very productive meeting ... to share ideas and look for areas where we can come together."

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said the Michigan members have many issues in common — transportation, water issues and employment. "We're one of the worst in the country in our transportation needs and funding," Lawrence said.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com