If and when the Department of Defense moves forward with an East Coast Missile Defense Site, it will be at Fort Drum.
“Fort Drum is the preferred location for the East Coast Missile Defense site,” said U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, on Wednesday evening. “We really pushed them ... and I was the lead advocate.”
Ms. Stefanik shared a letter with the Times dated Wednesday from Michael D. Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, to the chair of the Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, saying that the Department of Defense had looked at the environmental impacts of a Continental United States interceptor site and had finally made the decision.
There were three possible locations. In addition to Fort Drum, Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center in Ohio and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan were also under consideration. Fort Drum was identified as having the best operational coverage, even though it was the most expensive option with the most environmental impact.
“At this time, and by a small margin, Fort Drum would be the preferred CIS in the eastern United States,” the letter reads. “However, since the Department’s 2019 Missile Defense Review determined there is no operational requirement for an East Coast CIS, the Department has no intent to develop one.”
Ms. Stefanik said that even this announcement was a huge win for her office and for the north country.
“That is what we have been working for,” she said — almost since her first day in office. “This was my office, this was the House side.”
The site would join Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., the current two continental interceptor sites. Ms. Stefanik said it was now up to congress to work on funding the project and bringing it to fruition. Because of this, there are no details as of yet on the capabilities, size or timeline of the project.
“This is going to be a multi-year appropriation,” she said.
Ms. Stefanik has been supported in her push by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who has sent letters in support of the project to the Secretary of Defense as early as 2016.
“I’ve always said, hands down, Fort Drum is the best place to locate a third missile defense site should the final military analysis conclude it is necessary,” Sen. Schumer said in a statement. “The North Country’s existing infrastructure, human capital, capacity to integrate new personnel and community support make it an ideal location.”
With the National Defense Appropriation Act already working its way through the House and Senate, Ms. Stefanik said it is unlikely anything would happen before next year, at the earliest. But Ms. Stefanik said it would be the most significant development at the post since she took office.
“I’ve been very proud to be the lead voice in the country, frankly, for Fort Drum,” Ms. Stefanik said.
Ms. Stefanik has been very vocal in pressuring the Department of Defense to make an announcement. In the House Armed Services Committee markup of the NDAA, there was a provision requiring the Secretary of Defense to designate a site before Jan. 31 of 2020.
As part of Ms. Stefanik’s advocacy, she got a bipartisan group of eight other New York Congressional representatives to sign onto a letter advocating for Fort Drum in February of 2018.
The letter said a missile site at Fort Drum, near Route 3A, could mean up to 1,450 potential jobs and $220 million per year in value to the region, according to a 2016 Missile Defense Agency study. Missiles at Fort Drum could take up to a 1,219-acre footprint, requiring crews to clear 996 acres of forests, shrub areas and grasslands.
Julie Halpin, director of Fort Drum Public Affairs, said she was unaware that an announcement was made by the Department of Defense or Congress. Stefanik released information that Fort Drum was getting the missile defense system. She said that other Fort Drum officials also had not heard anything about an announcement.
“I can’t comment on something I haven’t seen,” she said.
Other elected officials praised Ms. Stefanik’s efforts in advancing the project.
“Elise has been absolutely dogged in leading this effort on behalf of Fort Drum and New York State,” fellow New York Republican Rep. John Katko was quoted as saying in a press release. “She has worked hand in hand and led the delegation to ensure Fort Drum was the preferred location for an East Coast Missile Defense site. This will be a huge win for both of our districts and I am so proud of her significant ability to deliver this enormous result for the region.”
Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Huevelton, said in a statement that the project would help the north country.
“Word that Fort Drum has been named as the preferred location for an East Coast missile defense site is great news for our region and the future of the installation,” Sen. Ritchie said. “Locating this missile defense system on Fort Drum will not only help bolster national security, but also have an enormous positive impact on our regional economy, helping to support nearly 1,500 jobs. I want to thank Congresswoman Stefanik for her continued leadership on this issue.”
In a statement, Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown, praised the announcement as well.
“This is tremendous news for Fort Drum and the defense of our nation,” said Assemblyman Mark Walczyk. “If the United States gets into a fight in the world, it calls on the 10th Mountain Division. If Northern New York has a fight in Washington, we call on Congresswoman Stefanik. Her steadfast advocacy in Washington helped get Fort Drum selected for the East Coast Missile Defense Site; a welcomed addition to New York’s largest single-site employer and only power projection platform in the North East.”
Reporter Craig Fox contributed to this report.