U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, toured the former Ravenna Arsenal on Tuesday seeking ammunition to build support for bringing a multi-billion dollar defense project to the Portage County site.
The Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center is among five locations being considered for a possible national anti-ballistic missile launch project.
The site would house an undetermined number of missiles designed to intercept incoming enemy missiles. Cost estimates range from $1 billion to $5 billion.
“I think this is a great opportunity for us,” Portman said during an interview at the Akron Beacon Journal before his tour of the 33.5 square-mile site. “It would be good news for this whole region.”
The other locations under consideration are Fort Drum, N.Y.; Camp Ethan Allen Training Site, Vt.; Naval Air Station Portsmouth SERE Training Area, Maine; and Fort Custer Training Center, Mich.
“We have a lot going for us,” Portman said.
He cited Northeast Ohio’s strong infrastructure, research capabilities at Ohio State University and the John H. Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and existing missile technology at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, as well as the expertise at several Ohio private-sector companies involved with defense contracting.
“There are reasons Ohio makes sense for what they need to do,” he said.
The United States has two missile defense sites with long-range interceptor missiles active in Alaska and California. The goal of the new project is to deploy a defense system on the eastern side of the United States, Portman said.
The former Ravenna Arsenal was used by the Army during World War II to manufacture bombs and projectiles, employing 18,000 people at its peak. The property became a National Guard training site in 1971 and currently is used to prepare troops for deployments and routine exercises.
The number of potential sites for the projects is expected to be narrowed to three by the end of the year, with the winning location selected about a year later, Portman said.
During the interview, Portman also discussed his thoughts on the recent federal government shutdown and political gridlock in Washington, D.C.
He said attempts by some Republicans to tie defunding the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) to raising the federal debt ceiling was a political mistake.
“That was never a realistic expectation,” he said.
Portman said he’s now optimistic about the chances of reaching a compromise on budget issues to avoid another crisis.
“What’s the alternative?” he asked. “Kick the can down the road again? …We have to back up and say, ‘How do we work together?’ ”
A starting point moving forward, he said, could be President Barack Obama’s own budget proposals, which include reductions in mandatory spending for programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Those proposals, for example, could require more people to pay higher premiums for Medicare coverage, based on their income levels.
Portman said he’s also not opposed to providing some relief to federal sequestration, which requires across-the-board cuts to federal programs rather than more thoughtful, selective spending reductions.
But he said President Obama has to do his part and be willing to compromise. “Some presidential leadership is required,” he said.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.