Metro-East News

Sen. Mark Kirk submits letter formally asking for NGA site-selection probe

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois. AP

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk on Tuesday sent a letter to the Comptroller General of the United States seeking a review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ report that favors a St. Louis site over St. Clair County for the new western headquarters for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

The Corps of Engineers’ Final Environmental Impact Statement, or FEIS, led NGA Director Robert Cardillo to make a preliminary choice of building the $1.75 billion NGA West campus in north St. Louis and not St. Clair County.

Kirk, in a letter to Gene L. Dodaro, the comptroller general, said the Corps of Engineers ignored previously identified errors in the draft report, followed specific regulations while ignoring others and “ranked the total cost of the project as the lowest priority.”

Dodaro, as comptroller general, serves as head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, or GAO, the federal government’s chief fiscal watchdog and auditing agency.

Kirk’s letter raises thorny questions about the ownership of the 99-acre north St. Louis site and the motivations behind the decision to build in a blighted urban neighborhood whose security, according to outside evaluators, from potential terrorist attacks compares unfavorably to the 182-acre St. Clair County site next to Scott Air Force Base.

The senator’s letter was released just two days before Kirk, an Illinois Republican, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., are scheduled to meet with Cardillo in Washington. St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern also will meet early Thursday afternoon with Cardillo, his senior staff and the senior staff of the Corps of Engineers to discuss problems flagged in the site report.

Kirk wrote that the site report identifies the St. Louis site as the one with the “greatest opportunity to create a strong, aesthetic improvement to this area, remediate environmental contamination...If that is an objective of the relocation, why was the Pruitt-Igoe property omitted from the St. Louis site?”

Pruitt-Igoe is the name of a notorious public housing complex the federal government demolished in 1973. The 33-acre property forms the southern boundary of the proposed NGA site in north St. Louis. Concerns have cropped up about the safety of Pruitt-Igoe because of revelations about a secret government program to test chemical weapons laced with radioactive isotopes during the 1950s and 1960s on Pruitt-Igoe residents.

Kirk notes that St. Clair County submitted analyses of the environmental risks involved with their site. However, “no similar analyses were completed for the St. Louis City site. If discovered, who is responsible for the cost of the environmental cleanup?”

Kirk also quoted a 2013 Pentagon Inspector General report that states the NGA did not comply with legislation connected to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or BRAC, the body appointed by Congress in 2005 to close some military bases and consolidate and expand others.

NGA’s failure to comply with the commission rules concerned the closing of an NGA facility at Newington, Va., called NGA East, or NCE. This failure occurred “because instead of implementing BRAC legislation requirements, NGA officials developed a flawed rationale to justify continuing operations at the Newington site. NGA could have minimized or avoided $11.4 million in total costs if they had incorporated the Newington site into the original plans for the NCE as required by BRAC legislation,” Kirk wrote.

To ensure similar errors are not repeated with the NGA West facility, Kirk wrote that it is in the best interest of taxpayers that a series of questions be answered. They include the following:

▪  NGA’s decision to locate NGAWest in a confined location in North St. Louis differs greatly from the relocations of the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and NGA East campus. Will NGA’s preferred alternative in North St. Louis “require a waiver from the Department of Defense” for the United Facilities Criteria?

▪  The Army Corps report references a survey of 20 students who preferred St. Louis. “Is this survey sufficient as an argument to be considered in the FEIS?”

▪  Why did the Corps of Engineers ignore public comments and retain these errors in their final report?

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.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

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