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House committee approves funds for East Coast missile defense site, potentially at Fort Drum

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The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday night approved an amendment authorizing $140 million in new funding to support the development of an East Coast missile defense site.

The amendment, presented by Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, passed on a 33-27 vote. The committee discussed the funding during its markups of its $638.4 billion 2014 National Defense Authorization Bill.

Currently, an environmental impact study approved in last year’s authorization bill is underway by the Department of Defense to determine sites to place missiles. Fort Drum is one of several places that have been mentioned for the placement, along with the former Griffiss Air Force Base, Rome, and sites in Maine and New Hampshire.

House Republicans, including committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., led the charge for the new funding, citing the threats of countries such as North Korea and Iran.

Opponents have contended that the site’s price tag is too expensive in a time of economic shortfalls, and have questioned the effectiveness of the missiles systems now used.

Vice Admiral James D. Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told lawmakers in May that additional funding for a potential site was unnecessary while the environmental study was underway.

On Wednesday afternoon, before discussion about the funding, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said he was not surprised to learn it was being pursued because of developments in North Korea.

“That’s put quite a different spin on everybody’s mind,” he said.

Mr. Owens said he was inclined to support the new funding, but added that he wanted to see what level of funding moved forward to the House Appropriations Committee, of which he is a member.

He also hinged his approval for the project on community support and feedback from Fort Drum about the impact of the missile placement. Mr. Owens said he was waiting to talk with Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, post commander, about the placement until it was more clear the post was officially being considered.

The congressman said he met with Vice Admiral Syring on Wednesday to learn more about the selection process, and was told an initial list of 10 sites to be studied could be picked within the next 30 days.

Mr. Owens said he told the agency director that Fort Drum had the facilities to support the development.

“We’re very hopeful that Drum is amongst those 10,” he said.

The development of an East Coast missile site also has drawn conditional support from Sen. Charles E. Schumer.

In May, he wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calling for the placement of a missile site, if it were deemed necessary and cost-effective, at either Fort Drum or the former Griffiss Air Force Base.

Sen. Schumer’s letter said a placement could create thousands of job and significant revenue for the community receiving the site.

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