September 13, 2013

Maine land considered for missile defense site

Federal property in mountains east of Rangeley is now one of the Pentagon's five options for an interceptor facility if one is built.

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon announced Thursday that a remote patch of federal land in the mountains of western Maine is one of five sites being considered for a new missile defense facility.

click image to enlarge

In this October 2012 file photo, the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald launches a Standard Missile-3 as apart of a joint ballistic missile defense exercise in the Pacific Ocean. The Pentagon is considering a site in the mountains of western Maine near Rangeley as a potential East Coast location for an anti-ballistic missile defense system, officials announced Thursday.

U.S. Navy Handout Photo

The Department of Defense is looking at about 12,000 acres in Redington Township, east of Rangeley, for a battery of ground-based interceptors designed to detect and eliminate intercontinental missiles bound for North America.

The site is now home to a Navy field training program where pilots and special operations forces learn how to survive under duress and in cold weather.

The Pentagon is researching potential sites for an interceptor launch facility at the behest of Congress, in response to concerns about the threat posed by a potentially nuclear-armed Iran. The U.S. military now operates two ground-based missile defense facilities, in Alaska and California.

There is no funding now for construction of a facility closer to the East Coast, and there's disagreement in Congress about whether additional interceptors are needed. But defense officials said the current work will expedite construction if it is deemed necessary.

"While the (Obama) administration has not made a decision to build another missile defense facility in the U.S. for homeland defense, if a decision were to be made in the future to construct a new site, completing the required site study and environmental impact statement would shorten the timeline required to build such a site," Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said in a prepared statement.

Syring sent a letter Thursday to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, notifying her of the Redington site's inclusion on the list.

The other four sites being considered are Camp Ethan Allen in Vermont; Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center in Ohio; Fort Custer CTC in Michigan; and Fort Drum in northern New York.

A Missile Defense Agency spokesman said that list will likely be culled to three by year's end, starting a more comprehensive environmental impact review that includes opportunities for public comment.

The anti-ballistic missile facility could bring a significant number of year-round jobs to a rural corner of Maine that relies largely on tourism. It might also face public opposition, given the site's proximity to ski resorts on Saddleback and Sugarloaf mountains and to the Appalachian Trail.

Clyde Barker, chairman of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, heard about the proposal for the first time Thursday. "I'm going to have to look into it to learn more about it," he said.

An estimated 1,200 military personnel pass through the Navy's cold-weather field training program in Redington Township every year, according to reports.

Known as a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school, the program is based at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and is intended to help train pilots, sailors and soldiers for capture, interrogation or survival situations.

The former Loring Air Force Base, in Limestone in far northern Maine, was believed initially to be on the longer list of potential sites for an East Coast interceptor facility.

Loring, which closed in 1994, once housed long-range B-52 bombers and an installation of Nike-Hercules surface-to-air missiles.

The federal government transferred ownership of the property to the Loring Development Authority after the base's closure. Missile Defense Agency spokesman Rick Lehner said all of the potential sites being studied for a missile defense facility are owned by the Department of Defense.

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