Southwestern Illinois’ Congressional delegation Friday (April 22) issued a letter to the National Geospacial Intelligence Agency (NGA) expressing concerns over the agency’s tentative decision to construct its new $1.7 billion NextNGAWest facility at a site in North St. Louis, rather than a tract just north of Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County.
The letter outlines factual inaccuracies and inconsistencies in an environmental impact statement developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on proposed sites for the planned new high-tech intelligence facility. The letter also questions the NGA’s site selection process.
In particular, the letter expresses concern that the NGA and Army Corps overlooked evidence that the proposed St. Louis NextNGAWest site is contaminated with toxic waste from military chemical weapons tests.
The letter was signed by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., along with U.S. Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro), John Shimkus (R-Collinsville), and Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville).
“Southern Illinois’ fight for NGA is not over,” Bost said in a prepared statement. “I remain as sure as rain that this facility should be in St. Clair County, and I will continue to make that case until the very end of this process.”
On April 1, the Virginia-based NGA announced that the “agency preferred alternative” for its new western headquarters complex (alternately referred to as “NextNGAWest,” the “NGA West Campus” or “N2W”) was a site just north of Downtown St. Louis, in a low-income residential neighborhood that was once home to the now-demolished Pruitt-Igoe public housing project.
The preliminary selection of the St. Louis location was based an environmental impact assessment on four proposed N2W sites by the Army Corps, according to NGA spokespersons.
However, St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern describes the Army Corps report as “error-laden.”
He notes the geographic description of the proposed St. Louis location was apparently changed in the Army Corps’ final report to exclude the land formerly occupied by the Pruitt-Igoe complex. The former grounds of the Pruitt-Igoe complex had been included in all previous descriptions of the proposed St. Louis N2W site, as recently as two weeks ago, according to St. Clair County officials.
Moreover, the Army Corps report omits widely documented evidence that the Pruitt-Igoe grounds are heavily contaminated with toxins as the result of military chemical weapons tests at the site, according to St. Clair County officials.
Chemical weapons tests were secretly conducted at Pruitt-Igoe and two other St. Louis area locations in the 1950s, according to both St. Clair County officials and a group of St. Louis area environmental activists who have been working to have the sites decontaminated.
In a statement last week, the Army Corps said it had found no evidence of the alleged contamination at the Pruitt-Igoe site.
However, St. Clair County officials and local activists point to numerous academic studies on contamination at the former Pruitt-Igoe grounds — including the work of St. Louis Community College-Meramec sociologist Lisa Martino-Taylor, who has extensively studied the effects of toxins at the site.
Contamination on the Pruitt-Igoe has also been the subject of numerous news media reports, none of which were cited in the Army Corps’ environmental impact assessment, St. Clair County officials say.
The letter from Southern Illinois lawmakers goes on to cite additional “serious errors” in the Army Corps report, including a section in which authors appear to confuse St. Clair County with the town of St. Clair, Mo., about 75 miles west.
The report states that archeologically significant artifacts have been found in the Osage River, which runs through the town of St. Clair. The river tributary lies entirely in Missouri. In another section, the report confuses St. Clair County, Ill. with St. Clair County, Mich.
In their letter, the lawmakers also take exception to NGA’s contention that an Illinois N2W location would be unattractive to employees at the agency’s current facility in St. Louis.
“We are shocked that any fair analysis of southern Illinois would conclude any other than the area has a strong, enduring track record of recruiting and maintaining a highly skilled workforce of all ages, offers a plethora of financial and quality of life advantages for employees…” Sen. Durbin and the other lawmakers state in the letter.
They also express concern that the Army Corps report ignores the benefits offered by Scott AFB’s existing military security infrastructure as well as potential problems posed by high crime rates in St. Louis.
“(Metro-East) has a proven track record of supporting national security missions, which is second to none,” the Illinois lawmakers contend in their letter.
— Metro-East lawmakers call for re-write of NGA report —