After putting the call out several days earlier, St. Clair County officials succeeded in packing Katy Cavins Community Center as part of a final push late Wednesday afternoon to impress upon National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency representatives that the county is the best place for NGA’s new western headquarters.
More than 200 people showed up for the hearing. There was an air of confidence among them.
“I believe we should get it,” said state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon. “I don't know how we can do anything more.”
Those interviewed at the NGA open house expressed confidence the St. Clair County site would be chosen over the three other candidate sites being considered, all of which are in either St. Louis or St. Louis County. But everyone interviewed also expressed concern that backroom political deals could trump logic and would work to keep NGA in St. Louis.
Janet Fontenot, dean of business at Southwestern Illinois College, described herself as “cautiously optimistic” about the prospect of NGA West coming to St. Clair County. Fontenot noted the ample room for future growth that the St. Clair County site offers, while Scott Air Force Base will be homoe to two newly created cybersecurity squadrons.
“So it’s a natural partnership,” Fontenot said. “But I also know that you just don’t know until it’s signed and sealed.”
The focal point of Wednesday’s input session was the public’s response to a recently released U.S. Army Corps of Engineers environmental-impact statement, or EIS, concerning the 182-acre site on county land next to Scott Air Force Base. St. Clair County focused on security, room for growth and synergy with the base as their main focus.
Interested parties have until Nov. 23 to submit their comments on the EIS for each of the four candidate sites.
NGA plans to move out of its cramped and aging facility just south of downtown St. Louis and move into a new home, taking with it 3,100 workers, which the agency plans to house in an 800,000-square-foot building
Laurie Farmer, a representative for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the site selection process, told the audience that no matter where the new home for NGA is located, “This is going to be great benefit for the entire St. Louis area.”
Farmer noted that construction on the $1.6 billion campus will create 425 new construction jobs, 250 indirect new jobs, 670 new jobs arising from labor spending and 1,350 total construction jobs.
Farmer noted that the EIS for St. Clair County showed potential drawbacks, including impacts to wildlife habitat in a wetlands located in the county site and an archeological site with artifacts from the mid-1880s.
Officially, four sites are still in the running for what is being called NGA West: two are located in St. Louis County — Fenton, Mo., and Mehlville, Mo. — while the third is in North St. Louis. The fourth candidate site is a 182-acre patch of farmland and scattered trees owned by St. Clair County and located just west of Scott Air Force’s northwest boundary and south of Interstate 64.
NGA is scheduled to make the final decision in March, with the building scheduled for completion by 2021.