O'Fallon Progress

Illinois lawmakers seek other options in NGA fight

Members of Congress from Illinois demanded Thursday that the director of a federal satellite spy agency reconsider a preliminary decision to locate its new Western headquarters in Missouri.

The lawmakers met at the U.S. Capitol for about 90 minutes in the office of Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. They pleaded with Robert Cardillo, the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, to delay the final decision in hopes of making a renewed case for locating the facility at Scott Air Force Base instead of North St. Louis.

They asked the Army Corps of Engineers to “go back to the drawing board” on its assessments of security and environmental impact, saying those were not properly studied. They also said the corps’ study contained “significant mistakes in its original form.”

“Making such a critical decision without accurate information is unacceptable,” said a joint statement from Durbin, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk and Republican Reps. Mike Bost, John Shimkus and Rodney Davis, all of Illinois.

The spy agency identified the 99-acre North St. Louis site on March 31 as its preferred location for the $1.6 billion headquarters after the corps published its final environmental impact statement.

In an interview, Cardillo said the final decision would be made in the next three weeks.

“I feel like I’ve got the information I need,” he said. “We’re still processing the data. This was more data gathering for that decision.”

After the meeting, Bost said he’d asked Cardillo three times whether he would delay the decision. The answer: No.

Bost said he was planning to ask the Army Corps of Engineers inspector general to do a full investigation of the environmental review.

“We’re going to use every means possible to slow things down,” he said.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is perhaps best known for its role in the Navy SEAL team raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. It helped the Pentagon pinpoint the location of bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and, based on satellite imagery, built a plastic-and-foam scale replica of the compound that was used in planning the raid.

James Clapper, currently the director of national intelligence, was director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency from 2003 to 2006.

Before Cardillo’s preliminary decision in March, Illinois lawmakers thought they had it locked down: a 382-acre site next to a major military installation. They pitched it as a more secure and cost-effective site, with the land already owned by St. Clair County. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner had offered $116 million in infrastructure upgrades near the site.

With 1,500 construction jobs and 3,100 permanent jobs at stake, St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern joined the meeting, as did former Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., a consultant for the county.

There’s a lot at stake for St. Louis, too. The agency’s current Western headquarters is there, in an outdated facility no longer suitable for the government’s mission. To keep the agency in Missouri, and its $2.4 million in earnings tax revenues, the state offered $131 million in incentives.

Backers of the Illinois site have said the North St. Louis site needs extensive environmental remediation and poses a danger to the agency’s workers and nearby residents in the event the facility becomes a terrorist target.

For example, the North St. Louis site would have a 500-foot setback for security, versus 1,000 for the St. Clair site. The corps told the lawmakers that 500 feet would be adequate, but Bost said he doubted it was sufficient for a military facility.

“We’re not sure it meets the setback criteria,” he said.

Davis, who left the meeting early, said he thought the decision to pick the North St. Louis site was made for purposes other than national security, cost-effectiveness and the agency mission.

“I think it was made out of politics,” he said “It was made to fulfill the president’s urban renewal mission, and unfortunately the taxpayers are going to be the ones on the hook for that.”

Bost said lawmakers might be able to use the budget process to intervene, if necessary.

“I don’t think this is going to be moving as fast as you think,” he said.

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis