Missile agency says environmental groups settle lawsuit

Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Environmental groups have settled a lawsuit they filed against the military claiming that the biological impacts of the latest missile defense testing plan need more study.

Col. Rick Lehner, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Friday that the settlement with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which represents the groups, has resolved several issues.

First, the NRDC accepted the military's assessment that earlier environmental studies of a stalled plan to put 100 operational missiles in the ground at Fort Greely are good enough to allow the current plans for six testing silos to go forward, Lehner said.

The agreement confirms the logical conclusion that there are ''no impacts associated with having less missiles,'' Lehner said. Comments on that environmental assessment will be accepted through April 15, he said.

Second, the military agreed to write a full environmental impact statement on its plans for the North Pacific ''test bed.''

The test bed plan calls for upgrades at the state-owned launch facility on Kodiak Island, as well as work elsewhere in the nation.

As part of the impact statement process, Lehner said, he expects public hearings in Anchorage and Kodiak sometime in April.

The military also promised to complete the appropriate environmental analysis ''if a decision is made to launch interceptors out of Fort Greely,'' Lehner said.

The Missile Defense Agency expects to store missiles at Fort Greely but not to launch them there.

Finally, the military agreed to complete the necessary studies if a decision is made to build an X-band radar in the test bed, Lehner said.

''It's basically just a reassurance that we will do what is expected of us,'' Lehner said of the environmental study commitments in the settlement.

The agency has been considering whether to build such a radar on Shemya Island in the Aleutians and has applied for a wetlands permit to do some work. The work, which the deputy commander of the missile program said could begin this summer, includes installation of test equipment related to the radar.

News of the lawsuit settlement was received late Friday afternoon. A spokesman from the Natural Resources Defense Council could not be reached for comment.

The NRDC represents several Alaska groups, including the Fairbanks-based No Nukes North, the Alaska Public Interest Research Group, Alaska Action Center, Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the Kodiak Rocket Launch Information Group.

The groups had planned to ask a federal judge to stop construction on missile defense facilities this summer if the military did not agree to new studies.

The Army is in the process of reviewing bids for up to $250 million in construction work to be started at Fort Greely this summer.

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