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Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications, Published September 03 2012

Cavalier group still looking to acquire Nekoma missile site

NEKOMA, N.D. – A Cavalier County Job group still intends to acquire the abandoned Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex at Nekoma, despite stalled negotiations with the federal government.

The Cavalier County Job Development Authority has had plans for the property since 2006, with hopes to create a multi-purpose facility featuring unmanned aircraft research, a development and business park, an education and training center, and a historical interpretive center focused on Cold War history in North Dakota.

But federal and local agencies have not been able to come to terms on price or on financial responsibility for the required environmental cleanup of the facility.

The federal General Services Administration, which owns the facility, has insisted the buyer pay to clean up an estimated 420,000 gallons of groundwater that has seeped into underground missile silos and become contaminated.

The cleanup cost has been estimated between $4 million and $6 million.

“The main issue is environmental,” Carol Goodman, executive director of the Cavalier job development authority, said.

The Safeguard Antiballistic Missile site, authorized by the 1972 agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union, once housed 100 ABM missiles, as well as an over-the-horizon radar detection system to track potential nuclear threats.

However, Congress voted to close it in October 1975, one day after it officially was placed in operation. It was shut down by February 1976, and all missiles were removed by 1977.

Environmental issues

The North Dakota Department of Health has issued a health violation notice, stating the facility violates the state’s hazardous waste management laws and rules.

The state is giving the federal government until Sept. 28 to respond to the notice, which seeks an explanation of the alleged violations, any corrective actions already taken and what the government will do “to ensure future compliance.”

It is not a final notice, according to Scott Radig, director of the department’s waste management division, which means it neither imposes nor waives any action available by the state.

“That could come at a later date, depending on the response,” he said.

GSA acknowledged the contamination when it put the facility up for sale last year. However, the notice included a statement that the purchaser would be responsible for any environmental cleanup.

“It’s been apparent that the government is reluctant to take care of the environmental issues, even though it’s been documented,” Goodman said. “So, there’s no way we were going to purchase that without a guarantee that the government would take care of those environmental issues.”

Cavalier job development authority members voted last week not to respond to what they were told is a final contract price from GSA.

The government’s asking price, which was undisclosed, is identical to the federal agency’s original offer, according to Goodman.

The next step, Goodman said, is to wait for GSA to put the property up for bids. That could happen this fall.

“We definitely plan to bid on it,” she said. “Nobody’s ever said this was going to be easy. We look it as just another step in the process, and we plan to continue moving forward.”

Kevin Bonham writes for the Grand Forks Herald