U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said Monday he believes it would make “good sense” to locate the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency at Scott Air Force Base due to both sites’ work on cyber-security.
St. Clair County officials are hoping to lure the NGA to a 200-acre site on the base when the agency relocates from its current location in downtown St. Louis. The base is the only Illinois location being considered for the agency’s new facility alongside three other Missouri sites, including St. Louis’ north side.
At stake are some 3,100 jobs at the NGA, a third of which belong to employees who live in St. Clair County, said county board chairman Mark Kern.
He said bringing the NGA to the area “would be a major shot in the arm to the local economy,” particularly from jobs created by the $1.6 billion construction project to build the new NGA facility.
“This would have a huge impact on all of us in St. Clair County,” Kern said. “(Employees) would be coming here, shopping here, shopping on base, purchasing houses in area.”
During an “impressive visit,” Durbin said he got to learn more about a little known “major center” being developed at Scott Air Force Base to protect the U.S. from cyber attacks.
“What you don’t see at Scott Air Force Base is a massive logistics operation that literally spans the globe and now a cyber security operation that is being upgraded dramatically for the Department of Defense, right here at Scott Air Force Base,” he said. “The NGA is linked into this cyber security network, so putting them close to one another makes good sense, ultimately, and we’re going to make that case when the NGA makes their ultimate decision.”
The proposed site would be housed on unused grounds originally used as a buffer zone for flights at the public Mid-America Airport at the base, Durbin said.
Kern said the site also includes full utilities such as two power grids to ensure power stays on, and will be accessed by a new highway exit being constructed by the State of Illinois.
Additionally, Kern said the St. Clair County Board is hoping to help the process with a resolution to be presented at its meeting Monday night that will ask the FAA to let officials transfer the 200 acres to the NGA for free.
“Where others in the region are talking about selling their properties, we are hoping that we can provide this to the NGA to bring them here at no cost,” Kern said. “We know that it fits. We know they’re major customer is located here at Scott Air Force Base.”
All of these aspects create “a powerful presentation” that’s “substantially different and better than those on the other side,” Durbin said, noting he communicated that to NGA Director Robert Cardillo during a meeting last week in Washington.
“The fact…the land is easily available, we don’t have to tear down buildings, now the board will ask to offer this land free of charge to the federal government, it’s a savings to taxpayers,” Durbin said.
That’s in contrast to St. Louis, which is pursuing a $20 million loan to help the city acquire land in its proposed site on the north side. Officials estimate the total cost to bring the NGA there would be around $130 million.
As for next steps, Durbin said the NGA and the Army Corps will conduct and announce environmental impact analyses by September, with a final selection being made in March or April of next year.