FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Barges could still embark this year to Shemya Island carrying material to begin construction on a national missile defense system radar site, Sen. Ted Stevens said Tuesday.
Stevens said the incoming Bush administration, if it approved contracts by April 15, could nearly restore the national missile defense system's original construction schedule.
That schedule, which called for the system to be running by 2005, was jeopardized in September when President Clinton decided not to approve construction of the overall system before he left office. The Pentagon had issued a request for proposals for the Shemya work, but Clinton declined to award the contract.
President-elect George W. Bush supports a missile defense system, though not necessarily the same one developed during the Clinton administration.
And for that reason, according to one missile system critic, the Bush administration is unlikely to send the barges to Shemya this year.
''They're not prepared to put forward a program,'' said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, in Washington, D.C.
Stevens, who just returned from a trip out of Washington that included a meeting with Bush in Texas, said he is pushing for work to begin.
''We're trying to get it back on schedule,'' Stevens said. ''If Clinton's decision is reversed by somewhere around April 15 or before, it's possible for the materials to be shipped so it can be done for the winter construction season.''
Winter weather is so bad and the docking facilities so inadequate that landing material in that season is not possible, said Stevens, who visited the island with top defense officials in August. But if the materials can be delivered to the island next summer, construction could proceed next winter, he said.
Lt. Col. Rick Lehner, spokesman for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization at the Pentagon, said Stevens was correct about the possibility of some winter construction, though that hasn't been in the plans to date.
The materials, which would likely depart from Seattle, include steel, concrete and a small power plant, Lehner said. The material weighs about 4 million pounds altogether, he said.
Kimball, of the coalition opposing the system, said Bush has advocated a different, sea-based missile defense system for the country. While the Shemya radar might still be useful in such a system, the broader choices could delay its construction, Kimball said.
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