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 militarys 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 isnt 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 thats 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.
Its got everything; they dont have to rebuild, he said. I think thats a very important part of the Missile Defense Agencys 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 states 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 well 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 weve alleviated that, I view as a major win, Mr. Owens said. That wouldve have dramatic, negative impacts on soldiers and on the civilian employees.