U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Wednesday he plans to meet next week with National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Dirctor Robert Cardillo to discuss errors in the report that led Cardillo to choose a site in St. Louis for the $1.75 billion NGA West campus.
Durbin said St. Clair County and Illinois have a “solid case” to make as they attempt to bring the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to a site near Scott Air Force base, thereby reversing an NGA preliminary decision to build it in North St. Louis.
“We think the fundamental decision was wrong,” Durbin said. “Just plain wrong.”
Durbin said he did not know if Cardillo’s choice stemmed from political or purely rational considerations.
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“I asked the President and the White House to stay out of it,” Durbin said. “I believe that our application was that strong.”
Durbin said he did not believe President Barack Obama got personally involved, though Durbin would not rule out the role of politics elsewhere down the line.
“So if there were politics it wasn’t at that high level,” he said. “It could’ve been at another level — I just don’t know.”
I asked the President and the White House to stay out of it. I believe that our application was that strong.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin
Nonetheless, Durbin labeled the effort to change Cardillo’s mind “a long shot” because appeals of such decisions rarely succeed.
“The reason I say it’s a long-shot is that historically, appeals do not change the initial decision,” he said. “But in this case I think we have a solid case to make, and I hope that Mr. Cardilo will come to it with an open mind.”
One factor that could favor the St. Clair County site is new information about potentially higher costs of building NGA West in North St. Louis.
“We know the initial decision was in favor of St. Louis,” Durbin said.”But there were assumptions in that initial decision that we do not believe were valid.”
One of those cost-drivers is the cost of providing security to a site in North St. Louis versus security for the St. Clair County site next to Scott Air Force Base.
“We’ll be watching and rethinking the construction, the acquisition of the land, the construction, all of this,” Durbin said. “Understand, on this side of the river, we were giving this acreage to the federal government. The county invested in it to make sure it could be used in the future.”
If Cardillo upholds his initial decision, “I don’t know if there is another appeal, to be honest with you,” the senator said.
Durbin, making a visit Wednesday to East St. Louis, took questions from reporters about the options left for Illinois as it tries to get the NGA decision changed.
The official reason for Durbin’s visit to East St. Louis was to promote an announcement by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that it had awarded $15 million in loan guarantees to help St. Clair County establish a loan fund to help finance economic and community development projects in the county.
Durbin made clear how unhappy he was with the Army Corps of Engineers’ Final Environmental Impact Statement, or FEIS, that provided the framework and reasoning behind Cardillo’s preliminary site decision.
“I’m very disappointed with the initial decision that was made,” Durbin said. “It was very poorly written. There were references in there to St. Clair County, Michigan, and St. Clair County, Missouri. It looked to me that many aspects of this were not done as carefully as they should’ve been.”
I’m very disappointed with the initial decision that was made. It was very poorly written.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin
Cardillo announced March 31 in a preliminary decision that the NGA West campus would be built in North St. Louis on a 99-acre parcel, as opposed to the 182-acre parcel that St. Clair County owns adjacent to Scott.
Cardillo is scheduled to announce his final decision on the NGA West location after June 2.
Earlier this week, St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern fired off a highly detailed and at times scathing critique of the intelligence agency’s preliminary decision to locate NGA’s new $1.75 billion headquarters in North St. Louis rather than St. Clair County.
In a 19-page letter to the Kansas City office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the site-selection process, Kern took issue with the Corps’ report, which was issued April 1.
Kern said the report revealed a “predetermined bias in favor of the St. Louis City site” and that it was undermined by factual inaccuracies that had been ignored by the Corps of Engineers when the county brought them to their attention.
The NGA, a secretive Defense Department intelligence agency that makes maps based on satellite imagery, announced two years ago it needs a new home for its western headquarters. It is currently housed at the 190-year-old St. Louis Arsenal just south of downtown St. Louis. The NGA must move because it needs more room to grow and modern infrastructure, such as heating-and-cooling systems.
Construction on the NGA site is set to begin in mid-2017 with completion set for 2021.