Metro-East News

Army Corps defends NGA site pick; says no evidence of chemical weapons tests

Artist’s conception of NGA West headquarters at St. Louis site.
Artist’s conception of NGA West headquarters at St. Louis site.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has defended the site-selection process that led the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to announce preliminary plans to move its $1.6 billion NGA West campus to North St. Louis.

The preferred site is adjacent to the old Pruitt-Igoe housing complex — even though Pruitt-Igoe reportedly was the site of a secret Army chemical weapons program that might have left toxic chemicals on the 57-acre parcel.

In response to a set of written questions from the News-Democrat, Corps of Engineers spokesman David Kolarik wrote that no data was found verifying the existence of such a program at the 99-acre North St. Louis site.

“The records search used by professionals in this field did not identify any secret Army tests to Pruitt-Igoe residents,” according to Kolarik, who is assigned to the Corps’ Kansas City office.

Kolarik’s response contradicts news media and academic reports that show that the Army, in the 1950s and 1960s, used Pruitt-Igoe as the location for a program to determine how weaponized aerosols could be used to deliver dangerous radioactive materials to civilian populations in the Soviet Union.

Missouri State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who represents a district near the Pruitt-Igoe site, dismissed the Corps of Engineers’ claims that no records could be found of the secret Army chemical weapons program.

“It’s hogwash,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “All they have to do is look it up and do some research.”

Chappelle-Nadal said it did not take her long to find online the news stories and academic research ofLisa Martino-Taylor, a sociologist who teaches at St. Louis Community College Meramec, in Kirkwood, Mo.

Chappelle-Nadal called the Army Corps’ failure to find information about contamination at Pruitt-Igoe part of a “cover-up” that is similar to “cover-ups” of toxic dangers at two sites in North County, Missouri, tainted by radioactive pollution.

Pruitt-Igoe “is part of that legacy of contamination that the federal government doesn’t want to address,” she said.

Meanwhile, key members of Illinois’ congressional delegation met Wednesday to plan a strategy for getting NGA to change its April 1 decision and pick instead a 182-acre site in St. Clair County next to Scott Air Force Base.

U.S. senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill. and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., met with U.S. Representative Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, whose district includes Scott, and Mark Kern, the St. Clair County Board chairman. The group was also joined by former U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, and retired Air Force General Duncan McNabb, who served as Commander of Air Mobility Command and U.S. Transportation Command at Scott.

“I convened today’s meeting so that Southwestern Illinois’ bipartisan congressional delegation could hear directly from our partners in St. Clair County as we coordinate our response to the site selection of NGA West,” Durbin said in a written statement. “For two years, we have worked together to present a bid for the new NGA facility that reflects the very best of what Scott Air Force Base and Southwestern Illinois have to offer. Over the next two weeks, we will continue to fight for Scott and to make that case.”

Kirk said, “I will take full advantage of the comment period by highlighting the glaring errors and falsehoods within the report.”

Bost vowed that the fight for the NGA facility is far from finished.

“I am working closely with local and federal officials, Republicans and Democrats, to get answers to the most pressing questions regarding NGA’s intent to relocate to North St. Louis,” Bost said. “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.”

News of potentially dangerous contamination at the Pruitt-Igoe property, whose location would form the NGA site’s southern boundary, has added fresh fuel to Illinois leaders’ call for NGA Director Robert Cardillo to reconsider his decision and to locate the $1.6 billion NGA facility — and its 3,100 jobs — 25 miles east in St. Clair County. Cardillo is scheduled to issue his final decision on May 2.

Kern has already taken the Corps of Engineers to task for a series of geographical errors that riddle the Environmental Impact Statement — St. Clair County, Ill., for instance, is confused with St. Clair County, Mo. and St. Clair County, Mich.

The possibility of contamination at the Pruitt-Igoe site next to the proposed NGA West only reinforces the need for NGA to reconsider its plans to build in North St. Louis, according to Kern.

“Given their error-laden report, we are not surprised the Corps of Engineers left out any mention of this likely environmental contamination on or next to their favorite site,” Kern said in a written statement.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000