Missile defense meeting veers to address purpose

By NORA K. WALLACE
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER

27 April, 2002


(See also: Comments on EIS for GMD Test Expansion;
More Star Wars Tests - EIS Scoping;
and Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) Extended Test Range Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) v Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Validation of Operational Concept Environmental Assessment (EA))

Military defense officials proposing an expansion of the missile defense system were hoping they'd hear from the public about air quality, land use, hazardous materials and other environmental concerns.

Instead, a sparsely attended public hearing Thursday night in Lompoc became a quasi-debate about the purpose and need for comprehensive program designed to protect the U.S. from missile attacks by so-called rogue nations.

Portions of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense program are now test-launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Kwajalein Missile Range in the Marshall Islands. But the Pentagon would like to greatly expand those options, adding a variety of different tests at the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska and a mobile sea-based launch platform in the Pacific, as well as expanding Vandenberg's role.

The hearing was required to gather lists of environmental concerns for inclusion in a draft environmental impact statement.

Because the ground-based interceptors presently can be test-fired only from the Kwajalein Missile Range, the military is hoping the expanded tests will allow a "more operationally realistic testing of the ballistic missile defense system," said Navy Capt. Dan Morgiewicz, chief of staff for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense joint program office.

In a break from standard procedure at such hearings, Capt. Morgiewicz engaged in a thoughtful discussion with one audience member who opposes the concept of missile defense.

"Is it a need for national security or is it for corporate aerospace power influence -- corporations driven by money, not national security?" questioned Megan Kirtland, a graduate student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and member of the Progressive Student Alliance. "You are risking our health and safety with every toxic rocket launch. . . . Are you willing to jeopardize the health of American citizens here and now in exchange for proposed national security from possible attack, from some possible foreign nation, at some possible point in time?"

Capt. Morgiewicz told her that the need for increased national security was the driving force in the expansion of the testing program. There are numerous safeguards in place, he said, "to minimize every potential risk."

"We live here, too," he said. "We care about what we do, are careful about what we do. We are committed to a safe approach."

Lompoc resident Justin Rughe said he felt the military was spending "a tremendous amount of money on the environmental aspects of this," considering Vandenberg has launched missiles and rockets for decades. He suggested the military move ahead quickly with the program, by taking into account that background.

"There is a tremendous record of successful testing that has not harmed anyone or anything," he said.

Two meetings in Alaska drew more than 100 people; the Lompoc hearing attracted about 20 people, but only about a half-dozen were not directly associated with the military or the program.

Comments on the environmental safety and occupational health issues of the project may be sent by May 10 to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command,
attention to SMDC-EN-V (Julia Hudson-Elliott), 
06 Wynn Drive, Huntsville, AL 35805,
or by e-mail to gmdetreis@smdc.army.mil.

Residents also can call (800) 823-8823 with comments.

Another public hearing will take place when the draft environmental statement is released in the fall.

 



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