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Peters hopes to speed release of report on missile site

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A new bipartisan Senate bill aims to accelerate the selection of a new missile defense site for which Michigan is among three finalists.

The Missile Defense Agency is preparing an environmental impact study of three potential East Coast locations for a new Continental United States Receptor Site, including the Fort Custer Training Center near Battle Creek Air National Guard Base.

The environmental study was expected to be released last year, but the agency says it cannot provide additional information on the sites until the Pentagon finishes its review of the Ballistic Missile Defense program.

That review, announced earlier this month by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, is led by the deputy secretary of defense and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and due to be delivered to President Donald Trump by year’s end.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a Bloomfield Township Democrat who serves on the Senate Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, this week introduced legislation that would accelerate the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement, even as the review continues.

Completing the study is the next step in the process for developing an interceptor site to defend the eastern half of the United States.

According to a summary of theAdvancing America’s Missile Defense Act of 2017, it would also authorize an additional 28 ground-based interceptors, promote the development and deployment of advanced interceptor technologies, authorize more missile defense testing and require a Defense Department report on potentially increasing the capacity of ground-based interceptors.

“The United States faces an evolving number of security threats – from North Korea’s provocative missile tests designed to inflame global tensions, to Iran’s ballistic missile tests in defiance of a U.N. Security Council resolution,” said Peters, who sits on both the Senate Homeland Security and Armed Services committees.

“It is critical that America take proactive steps to bolster our missile defense systems so we are prepared in the event of a missile attack directed at our homeland.”

Peters introduced the legislation with Republican Sens. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Shelley More Capito of West Virginia, as well as Democrats Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

“Top military leaders have been sounding the alarm, saying it is only a matter of ‘when, not if,’ Kim Jong-un will get the capability to range cities in the continental United States with a nuclear inter-continental ballistic missile,” Sullivan said in a statement. “The Advancing America’s Missile Defense Act of 2017 heeds that warning and seeks to advance our nation’s ability to outpace the current threats.”

The 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 factors that include an analysis of ballistic missile threats, affordability and potential environmental impacts, according to the Missile Defense Agency’s draft environmental impact report.

That report found that the environmental impacts at Fort Custer would be minimal and that the Battle Creek site, unlike the others, would not require additional surveys or cause significant harm to protected species or habitats.

The project could have an estimated $3.2 billion economic impact, including $700 million in construction, 300 direct jobs and 1,800 support jobs, according to a letter that the Michigan delegation sent last year to the Missile Defense Agency.

mburke@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8736