BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — Fort Custer near Battle Creek is on the short list of places the U.S. Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency is considering to build a missile interceptor site.
If Fort Custer in Augusta is chosen, it would be home to dozens of missiles that would be launched to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“From an intelligence standpoint, we’re investigating our threats, or our threat countries, and we’re mainly looking at the third-world rogue nations, those are our biggest threats,” said Lt. Col. Chris Snipes of the Missile Defense Agency, referring to countries like North Korea and Iran.
The project worth between $3 billion and $4 billion would employ 400 construction workers, and create 1,200 and 1,800 permanent jobs once it’s open. It initially calls for 20 interceptor missiles to be built. That number could rise as high as 60.
In the event of an attack, Snipes explained, the interceptor missiles would be fired to destroy long-range missiles — which have a range of 10,000 kilometers — while they are in space.
“In essence, we’re hitting a bullet with a bullet in outer space,” Snipes said.
The U.S. already has two interceptor sites — one in Alaska and one in California.
Snipes said the program was similar to Israel’s Iron Dome technology, just on a larger scale.
The Missile Defense Agency held a meeting in Battle Creek Tuesday to get input from the public about the possibility of building a site in West Michigan.
The potentially massive project is still in its very beginning stages: The feds are doing an environmental and community impact study of each of the four sites in the running for the project. The study alone will cost about $4.5 million.
The actual site would be between five and seven years away from becoming a reality, after a 24-month impact report and three to five years of construction.
“If we start planning now and have a system in place for those threats that come in the future, then we’re ahead of the game. If we wait until those threats appear, then we’re behind our enemies and that’s not a good thing,” Snipes said.
Fort Custer is among the finalists for the site — four narrowed down from more than 400 options. The base made it this far, 24 Hour News 8 was told, because of “critical performance requirements.” But when asked what those requirements consisted of, Snipes said “they’re classified.”
Snipes did say that the property had to be owned by the U.S. government and have enough space to build the project without compromising the its original purpose.
If Fort Custer is chosen, it could bring new development and new jobs. But some neighbors are concerned about property values, accidents and even planned attacks.
“If we get this, are our enemies going to know if this is here or is this going to be top secret? It just kind of leaves us in the dark and we don’t like being kept in the dark,” Teresa Gawlak, who has lived in the Cereal City for about 60 years, said. “[The project] could bring jobs, that’s very true, but there are also jobs leaving Battle Creek for different reasons, and there’s a lot of unsettlement and unsettling stuff going on.”
Former congressman Joe Schwarz was also on hand at Tuesday’s event, saying “there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Facilities like this are safe, they are needed, they are going to exist, and I would love to see it here in Michigan,” Schwarz said. “Anything that any community in the Midwest can do to enhance the economy and that given community should be done, and that’s what we’re going to try to do here.”
Fort Custer is up against facilities in Maine, New York and Ohio — or the site may not be built at all. Snipes said there is a good chance that the project may be delayed for years or never happen if it doesn’t get funded.
“This literally could sit on the shelf for years. There could be no decision at all, so there’s always that alternative,” said Snipes.