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Owens: Fort Drum must be first pick for missile placement

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WATERTOWN - As the military determines the location and necessity of an East Coast missile defense site, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said it was critical for Fort Drum to be the military’s first site choice.

“I feel pretty positive Fort Drum has all the right attributes for the missile defense site,” he said. “The question is determining on a national basis: A, We need it; B, We can pay for it.”

He anticipated a Missile Defense Agency decision about both questions this spring. Even if the agency determines the site isn’t needed, Mr. Owens said, there could be a push in Congress to move ahead with the site.

“For us, the critical place is making sure Fort Drum is the location that’s selected,” he said.

Mr. Owens met with the media during a stop at his office in Watertown before an appearance in Beaver Falls. He was asked about the missile placement as Congress has put in about $20 million in funding to continue evaluting the decision. In September, the post made a five-site short list for further review, along with Camp Ethan Allen, Vt.; Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center, Ohio; Naval Air Station Portsmouth SERE Training Area, Maine, and Fort Custer Training Center, Mich.

The advantages for Fort Drum, Mr. Owens said, are its infastructure and facilities.

“It’s got everything; they don’t have to rebuild,” he said. “I think that’s a very important part of the Missile Defense Agency’s decision making. Can we basically install the missile facility and then really not worry too much about the rest of the infastructure? Clearly, Fort Drum fits that bill better than anybody else.”

He said the push for the post was a unified effort that included state’s congressional delegation and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division commander, said this summer that he wanted to see the results of a military site study before giving an opinion about placing missiles.

Asked about a possible reduction of about 2,800 soldiers and civilians from fiscal years 2012 through 2017, Mr. Owens said the figure to look at was the number of troops present on post, which could limit the impact of the reduction with a drawdown of deployments around the end of 2014.

“I think we’ll see an increase in the net number of troops present,” he said.

The Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization numbers said about 400 civilian employees will make up the reduction. Mr. Owens said that he was waiting to see how the reductions are made, and that he was hopeful a change in funding or operations could keep some workers employed.

A federal spending bill under debate in Congress would reduce sequestration budget cuts by about $30 billion over the next two fiscal years. This fall, civilian workers on post went on furlough for six days as the Pentagon sought to reduce its budget.

“The fact we’ve alleviated that, I view as a major win,” Mr. Owens said. “That would’ve have dramatic, negative impacts on soldiers and on the civilian employees.”

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