St. Clair County leaders are pushing back, hard, against the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s preliminary decision to build its new $1.6 billion campus on a 99-acre site in North St. Louis.
Eager to show that the NGA West facility should be built in St. Clair County, on a 182-acre site next door to Scott Air Force Base, county leaders are making the case for why the decision to locate it instead in North St. Louis should be changed.
County leaders are basing their case for a “do-over” on what they describe as federal regulations that were “cherry-picked” and major mistakes that led the authors of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, or FEIS, to confuse St. Clair County, Ill., with counties sharing the same name in other states.
The mistakes appear in the FEIS released April 1 under the auspices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
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The FEIS helped guide NGA Director Robert Cardillo in his announcement that North St. Louis would get the coveted NGA facility and its 3,100 jobs — primarily as a means to revitalize an economically depressed neighborhood and to ensure the NGA could compete with private sector outfits for the best brains and talent.
The mistakes county leaders are citing include the fact that the FEIS reports that paleontological “resources have been discovered in the bed of the Osage River located in St. Clair County...The St. Clair County site area is undeveloped and covered by a layer of unknown thickness of silty and silty clay sediments.”
Problem is, there is no Osage River that runs through St. Clair County, Ill. The Osage River, however, runs through central Missouri. In the western of end of Missouri is St. Clair County, Mo.
In addition, the FEIS features a discussion of water mitigation issues, but they apparently refer to St. Clair County, Michigan, according to Terry Beach, St. Clair County’s economic development director.
If they had these misstatements about us, concerning St. Clair County, Michigan, and St. Clair County, Missouri, what things did they miss in reviewing the St. Louis North Side site?
Terry Beach, St. Clair County’s economic development director
Beach said the mix-up with St. Clair County, Mich., was spotted in the preliminary impact statement released last fall and brought to the attention of the Corps.
“They refuse to take out the St. Clair County, Michigan, mistake after we pointed it out,” Beach said. “And they obviously refused to remove it.”
To add insult to injury, Beach said, “they added another untruth about our site, stating our site and St. Clair County in general are along the Osage River, where there are possible Osage Nation sacred sites. They have mistaken us for St. Clair County, Missouri, now.”
People with comments about the NGA siting decision have until May 2 to make their views known. St. Clair County officials plan to make their case for a “do-over” during this comment period.
Dave Berczek, an NGA spokesman, acknowledged that in a large report with many appendices, “there’s potentially the opportunity for error to be introduced. That’s why there are the comment periods for other folks to look at. And that’s why this is not something that’s not done in a vacuum.”
If the FEIS made mistakes concerning basic information about St. Clair County, then it likely made mistakes in its analysis of the North St. Louis site, Beach said.
“If they had these misstatements about us, concerning St. Clair County, Michigan, and St. Clair County, Missouri, what things did they miss in reviewing the St. Louis North Side site?”
There’s potentially the opportunity for error to be introduced. That’s why there are the comment periods for other folks to look at. And that’s why this is not something that’s not done in a vacuum.
Dave Berczek, an NGA spokesman
The arguments that St. Clair County is marshaling to bring NGA West to the county are contained in a set of talking points being circulated among metro-east decision-makers entitled, “Why the Scott AFB Site for the next NGA West?”
The memo alleges the FEIS “cherry-picked certain components of certain regulations which justified the St. Louis site while others which justify the Scott AFB site were ignored.”
St. Louis officials argued forcefully that NGA should come to North St. Louis because the area sits in a federal Promise Zone that calls for federally funded projects to be built in inner city areas. St. Clair County officials argue, instead, that the Rural Development Act of 1972 mandates that rural areas be given first priority for the construction of new federal offices.
The St. Clair County talking points memo also takes aim at Cardillo’s contention that NGA belongs in North St. Louis because of the need to recruit the brightest minds from St. Louis-based universities.
The “future of our agency and our profession rests on our present talent and that of the next generations we can recruit onto our team,” Cardillo said in an email to news media last week. “We face tough competition and offering an environment that appeals to these future generations is critical to our success. Studies point to a desire by today’s millennials to be in urban environments, and this trend is expected to continue.”
St. Clair County is challenging this argument, noting that Scott “offers a distinct advantage for recruiting military personnel who are exiting the service either through retirement or other honorable discharges...They will know how to work as a team even under stressful conditions. Many have been forward deployed. Many will have advanced degrees in information assurance, cyber defense, finance and logistics, to name a few. And they will likely already have some level of security clearance which will save time.”
What’s more, Cardillo’s argument that NGA needs to be in St. Louis to recruit local college graduates apparently fails to withstand analysis, according to county officials.
A 2014 document called the “Future U.S. Workforce for Geospatial Intelligence” listed all the major American universities that offer cartography tracks or degrees. Only one was in the entire St. Louis metropolitan region — Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. No school in St. Louis was included on that list.
St. Louis and Webster universities were included on a list of schools nationwide that offer graduate certificates in remote sensing analysis.
What’s more, county leaders argue that the St. Clair County site is preferred to North St. Louis from a schedule perspective.
“If the St. Louis site is selected, there will be construction delays,” according to the memo. “When this happens, it will result in millions of dollars of taxpayer waste. Each year of delay at the St. Louis site will easily result in an increase of $40 million to the $945 million construction budget.”
Joseph Miller, an analyst with the Show-Me Institute, called the decision to build NGA West in North St. Louis a mistake, especially if the intent is to help the low-income people in a neighborhood with a majority black population.
“I think the biggest disappointment is there are people living in that area of North St. Louis right now, and they’re going to be forced out of their homes probably midway through the summer,” Miller said.
It would have made a lot more sense to locate NGA West in the 182-acre patch of fields and woodland next door to Scott.
“To me its sad when it could’ve gone across the river to an empty field and no one would’ve lost their house,” Miller said.
Large intelligence agencies are poor vehicles for urban renewal, according to Miller.
To make North St. Louis appealing to young professionals as a place to live and to work, then far more will have to be achieved— including the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars — than the construction of NGA West, Miller said.
“If they go forward with their redevelopment schemes the spending will never stop,” he said. “And now a lot of people are going to lose their homes. The city’s made a lot of plans, but they don’t currently involve the people who live in North St. Louis, and that’s kind of sad.”