Metro-East News

Confidential report: St. Clair County’s NGA site far more secure than St. Louis pick

Artist’s conception of Natiponal Geospatial-Intelligence Agency headquarters in St. Louis, next to former Pruitt-Igoe housing complex.
Artist’s conception of Natiponal Geospatial-Intelligence Agency headquarters in St. Louis, next to former Pruitt-Igoe housing complex.

The proposed 182-acre St. Clair County site for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency comes out way ahead in a variety of major security categories as compared to a 99-acre site in North St. Louis next to the old Pruitt-Igoe housing complex, according to a privately-financed security analysis obtained by the News-Democrat.

The St. Clair County site’s major advantages include sufficient stand-off distances to deter truck bombs or other terrorist attacks, a no-fly zone for drones and reduced criminal activity compared to North St. Louis.

Meanwhile, the North St. Louis site suffers from big disadvantages that are a reverse-mirror of the St. Clair County site’s assets: the lack of both a no-fly zone and standoff distances required under federal facility protection criteria, while criminal activity in the surrounding neighborhood is high.

Command Consulting Group, of Washington, D.C., concluded its report by stating that the St. Clair County site next to Scott Air Force Base from a “security and safety perspective” enjoyed “clear advantages to the North St. Louis proposed location.” The firm was hired by the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, a not-for-profit that promotes development in the region.

The firm’s report, issued confidentially March 17 but obtained Friday by the News-Democrat, will play a major role in the efforts of St. Clair County leaders and Illinois lawmakers to reverse the NGA’s preliminary decision to build the $1.75 billion NGA West in North St. Louis and instead locate the facility and its 3,100 jobs in St. Clair County.

The NGA is a major intelligence agency that creates maps and other tools based on satellite data. The NGA has outgrown its old home at the old St. Louis Arsenal south of downtown St. Louis and needs a new facility with greater room and state-of-the-art infrastructure.

The report’s authors, who include a former assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service and a former Air Force colonel with deep experience in facility protection, finished their analysis by underscoring the safety factor: “From our perspective as security experts we view the safety and security concerns for the facility and its workforce, especially in a time of elevated threats to the homeland, as paramount.”

From our perspective as security experts we view the safety and security concerns for the facility and its workforce, especially in a time of elevated threats to the homeland, as paramount.

Excerpt from report on security of potential NGA sites

“Finally,” wrote Command Consulting team leaders Mickey M. Nelson, the former assistant Secret Service director, and John Quattrone, the retired Air Force colonel, “it is logical that the proposed NGA site in St. Clair County would be the better choice, and we urge the decision-makers to cautiously weight any trade-offs of other factors against the NGA facility’s ultimate security and the safety of its workforce.”

St. Clair County and Illinois lawmakers plan to use the Command Consulting report as a major piece of their rebuttal to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, or FEIS, issued April 1 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps of Engineers’ study of potential sites provided much of the rationale for NGA Director Robert Cardillo when he announced his preliminary decision to locate NGA West in North St. Louis.

U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said the Command Consulting report makes it clear that NGA West must go to St. Clair County because of the paramount importance of ensuring site security for such a high-value intelligence facility.

Bost noted that locating NGA West in St. Clair County would make a great deal of sense if the aim was to foil a powerful truck bomb like the one used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

“We have enough setback that it would not affect the local population,” said Bost, who ticked off three paramount concerns: the security of the facility, the security of its workers and the security of nearby residents.

On those three criteria alone, it makes far more sense to build NGA West next to a military base in a rural area than locating it in a densely populated urban area, according to Bost.

Bost has already signed the letter sent out Friday that includes other Illinois lawmakers — U.S. senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and U.S. representatives John Shimkus, R-Collinsville and Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville — that challenges the preliminary NGA West site selection on the basis of factual inaccuracies and other concerns relating to the NGA site-selection process.

“We are shocked that any fair analysis of Southern Illinois could conclude anything other than the area has a strong, enduring track record of recruiting and maintaining a highly-skilled workforce of all ages, offers a plethora of financial and quality-of-life advantages for employees, and has a proven track record of supporting national security missions, which is second-to-none,” according to the letter.

Cardillo is expected to make his final decision on the NGA West location sometime in early June. The comment period on the preliminary decision is set to end May 2. Comments can be submitted online at nextngawest.com.

While the Corps of Engineers’ report, which cost taxpayers $1.75 million to generate, gave the St. Clair County site relatively high marks for security, it gave the site lower scores for such things as longer workforce commuting times and potential challenges because of archeological issues.

The North St. Louis site won high marks for the fact it lies within a Promise Zone, a federal program that seeks to use federal construction projects as a means to revitalize high-poverty, urban neighborhoods such the location near the corner of Jefferson and Cass avenues where NGA West is slated to go.

The NGA did not respond to questions pertaining to the Command Consulting report. A copy of the report was sent to NGA spokesman Don Kerr.

Both the NGA and the Corps of Engineers did respond, however, to earlier questions pertaining to news reports and academic research that indicate the 57-acre Pruitt-Igoe housing site, which would form the southern border of the NGA West if it were built in North St. Louis, could be laced with potentially toxic chemicals and radioactive isotopes from a secret Army chemical weapon-testing program from the 1950s and 1960s.

The Corps of Engineers, in its site study, made no mention of this possible toxic and radioactive contamination, even though it took months to draft and went into exhaustive detail about virtually every other aspect of the proposed North St. Louis and St. Clair County sites.

David Berczek, an NGA spokesman, blamed the failure to mention potential Pruitt-Igoe contamination on the fact the St. Louis Development Corporation had conducted initial environmental assessments for both the proposed NGA West project site and the Pruitt-Igoe site through a local consulting firm in October of 2015.

“The firm did not identify any recognized environmental condition or potential recognized environmental condition associated with radioactive or nuclear-related contamination on the proposed NGA site or the Pruitt-Igoe site,” Berczek wrote.

Berczek’s statement, however, contradicts a series of media and academic studies that indicate the presence of toxic chemicals, which might have to be remediated before construction can begin on the NGA West project.

St. Louis Community College-Meramec sociology professor Lisa Martino-Taylor’s research has raised concerns, especially as it pertains to the way the Army performed radiation testing by mixing radioactive particles with the zinc cadmium sulfide.

Martino-Taylor’s report, released in September 2012, was troubling enough that both U.S. senators from Missouri wrote to Army Secretary John McHugh demanding answers.

Martino-Taylor said she still has grave doubts about the safety of the Pruitt-Igoe site, especially if it will be adjacent to a major federal employer involving thousands of unprotected workers.

“The Army has not been very forthcoming with information,” Martino-Taylor told the News-Democrat on Friday. “So, what exactly was sprayed, at what concentrations, at what half-life has never been completely answered, in part due to the secrecy surrounding these tests.”

Illinois political leaders have made a major push to locate the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency-West's new headquarters in St. Clair County instead of North St. Louis. Here is the video made by members of the Illinois Congressional delegat

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

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