CARTHAGE — Residents got their first look Tuesday at what a potential missile defense site at Fort Drum could mean for the region: a facility costing as much as $4 billion to build that would create as many as 1,800 permanent jobs.
The sprawling site, covering hundreds of acres along Route 3A, initially would contain 20 ground-based interceptors, with the ability to expand to 60 interceptors, designed to shoot down incoming enemy missiles. The Defense Department says the missiles would be for defensive purposes and would not contain warheads.
The military has not decided whether a site is need on the East Coast to augment America’s current missile defense locations at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. If such a facility is ultimately approved, however, Fort Drum is on the short list of sites to host it.
The economic impact on the north country would be substantial. The site would create 400 to 600 temporary construction jobs, and an estimated 1,200 to 1,800 permanent military, civilian and contractor jobs, according to Lt. Col. Chris W. Snipes, program manager for continental United States interceptor sites.
The public comments taken during Tuesday night’s meeting will help shape the agency’s environmental impact statement, a two-year process that is in its early stages.
“There is a lot to come,” Col. Snipes said.
Nearly 100 people attended an open house-style meeting at Carthage High School to hear Fort Drum and Missile Defense Agency officials describe the project, from the size of the missiles, 55 feet long and 4.2 feet in diameter, weighing 22 to 27 tons, to the missile interceptor process, compared to firing a bullet at another bullet.
Two sites on existing government-owned land off Route 3A in the town of Wilna were mapped out for the complex.
One is 726.3 acres to the north of the state highway, with an potential 260.6-acre expansion area. A second site, to the south, is 367.9 acres in size, with a 257.7-acre expansion area that would require a section of Route 3A to be reconfigured.
Looking at a map, Kurt A. and Terry C. Neibacher of Carthage studied impacts to Route 3A, along with some hunting areas they enjoyed. Mr. Neibacher, who retired from the Army at Fort Drum, said he thought the potential missile complex could help the post’s standing.
“For me, it’s something else to keep Fort Drum here,” he said.
Many echoed their support of the project.
John F. Gallagher, of Carthage, saw military value in such a placement, comparing it to missile defense resources in Israel.
“The missiles that worry me are the ones coming in,” he said. “If you don’t think it’ll happen, you may be living in a hole.”
Dan C. Nevills, a Wilna town councilman, said he was 75 percent in favor of the complex, because of its economic benefit, and 25 percent opposed due to fears of potential danger.
Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, the garrison commander at Fort Drum, said the main concerns for 10th Mountain Division leaders were potential impacts on training.
Starting from 10 parcels at Fort Drum under consideration, the list was whittled down to the two off Route 3A, he said.
“What’s left suits their needs, and suits our needs,” Col. Rosenberg said.
Asked about how a missile site could affect Army evaluations of Fort Drum’s future, he said it could add another dimension to the post’s offerings.
“On the surface it would seem to be a good thing,” Col. Rosenberg said.
Other contenders for the missile site placement are Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center, Ohio; Naval Air Station Portsmouth SERE Training Area, Maine; and Fort Custer Training Center, Mich.
Having already held meetings regarding the Ohio and Maine sites, the Missile Defense Agency officials will hold a pair of hearings in Michigan next week.
The agency is studying the possibility of an East Coast missile defense site following orders from Congress in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.
Public comment will be taken until Sept. 15.
Contact information to submit comments can be found at http://wdt.me/wQbH9b.