RAVENNA: Some wetlands and streams would need to be relocated and construction would have to be timed so as not to interfere with a threatened species of bat.

But there are no environmental changes significant enough to rule out Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center as future home to a billion-dollar missile defense system.

Representatives with the U.S. Military Defense Agency held a public open house Thursday at Ravenna High School to discuss a draft report that has been two years in the making.

After assessing the potential impact on everything from water resources and air quality to land use and transportation, analysts concluded only three things would need to be remedied should Congress ever decide to build a “Continental United States Interceptor Site” (CIS) here:

•?About 21 acres of wetland would be filled in, so federal law would require the creation of a wetland of equal size nearby.

•?Likewise, 5.2 miles of small, unnamed streams would need to be relocated.

•?The area is inhabited by the northern long-eared bat, which is on the federal threatened species list. That problem could be avoided by clearing trees from October through April, before the bats come out of hibernation.

Other wildlife displaced by the CIS’ footprint of 1,070 acres would simply move to other habitats.

“There is nothing that can’t be overcome,” said MDA environmental officer Ellis Gilliland, one of more than a dozen military and civilian staff that met with area residents individually.

The one thing that would make the otherwise “minor” bat problem more significant, Gilliland said, is if Congress would opt for a three-year build instead of its original five-year timeline.

Congress recently asked for the study to consider both time frames.

It would be more challenging to clear the trees if the season is limited and construction has to be done in a hurry, he said.

Feedback requested

The MDA is still seeking public input on its report through July 18.

Military officials intend to reveal by the end of the year which of the three sites it prefers for a potential CIS: Ravenna, Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan or Fort Drum in New York. The three installations are all that remain of 457 sites that were in the running.

MDA program manager Col. Angela Holmes said once the final site preference is announced, “the process stops” until leadership decides whether to actually build.

So for now, the effort to identify a location is mostly a paper exercise.

Two other missile defense bases currently exist in Alaska and California.

The interceptor missiles are housed in steel-and-concrete silos and are intended to be deployed to destroy enemy missiles in space before reaching U.S. targets. They do not contain any explosives. They use a solid fuel propellant.

They are about 55 feet long, about 4 feet in diameter and weigh about 25 tons a piece. Each costs about $50 million.

The potential eastern Portage County site was the former Ravenna Arsenal, used by the Army during World War II to manufacture bombs and projectiles and employing 18,000 people at its peak.

The property became an Ohio Army National Guard training site in 1971 and currently is used to prepare troops for deployments and routine exercises.

Several Ohio politicians — including U.S. senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman — have voiced support for the plan, saying it would create local jobs and strengthen the regional economy.

The new study suggests building the facility would create 400 to 600 construction jobs for five years, generating $900,000 in annual tax revenue and $224 million a year in regional economic activity.

Once operational, the facility would employ up to 850 full-time personnel, with $1.35 million a year in tax revenue and $27 million a year in regional economic activity.

Opponents’ concerns

Not everyone thinks having a local defense missile system is a good idea.

Mary Greer, a Portage County resident and member of Concerned Citizens Ohio, stood outside the MDA gathering to offer prewritten letters of objection to anyone who wanted to sign their name and mail it in.

Among the arguments:

•?The Pentagon has stated it doesn’t need nor can it afford a third site.

•?The existing missile defense technology is flawed, with recent tests failing to intercept their targets half the time.

•?A bipartisan group of senators has supported using the money instead for improving technology to keep nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists.

Greer said others are concerned that having a high-security facility here would lead to other “top secret” activities in Ravenna’s backyard, and that hosting such a critical war cog would paint a target on the region’s proverbial back.

But Portage Development Board President Bradford Ehrhart said he only sees benefits to the region landing such a base.

“We’re real excited about the possibility of between 650 and 850 permanent jobs here in Ravenna,” he said.

Ehrhart said it would also help diversify the economy, bring in new people with high school levels, and indirectly support other area businesses, schools and contractors.

He said he was pleased to see Ravenna passed the environmental impact test.

Moving some wetlands, streams and bats “is not that big of a price to pay. We can do that,” he said.

Jim Apthorpe, a Windham resident and Army veteran, said he also has “no problem” with such a base being built.

“It’s minimal environmental impact, adds jobs, creates opportunity,” he said. “Why not?”

He added that it also makes it easier to accept because defensive missiles are simply built to knock things out of the sky and aren’t destructive on their own.

“It’s not a live warhead,” he said. “I’m sure that eases everybody’s mind.”

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.