Maine considered for possible interceptor site
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Northern Maine, which suffered a prolonged economic setback with the closing of Loring Air Force Base, is being considered for a ballistic missile defense “interceptor” site for the East Coast.
The director of the Missile Defense Agency confirmed Wednesday that a site in northern Maine is under consideration in response to a question by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who hails from Caribou. The agency expects to come up with a list of potential locations for further review in a matter of weeks.
Several communities around Limestone expressed support for hosting such a military installation despite being stung by Loring’s closing two decades ago.
“If they knock on our door tomorrow, we’re definitely going to be talking to them,” said Carl Flora, president and CEO of the Loring Development Authority.
Congress has directed the Defense Department to create an East Coast interceptor site in response to a perceived threat from Iran, which is believed to be developing nuclear weapons. The National Research Council, part of the National Academies of Science, zeroed in on northern Maine and northern New York as possible locations.
The idea is that land-based interceptors would supplement Navy warships equipped with ballistic missile defense systems. Currently, the only land-based sites are at Alaska’s Fort Greely and California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Vice Adm. James D. Syring said during a Senate defense appropriations subcommittee meeting that the Navy is looking at two sites in Maine, along with other sites as well.
The U.S. will conduct environmental studies, and Syring said he hopes to conduct site inspections by year’s end. But he acknowledged funds have not been appropriated.
Loring Air Force Base in Limestone closed in 1994, sending the economy of Aroostook County into a tailspin. Homes came on the market with few buyers and scores of businesses went under.
The county’s population continued a downward spiral for 10 years.
“Things have kind of bottomed out and stabilized. Aroostook’s economy was not extremely robust to begin with, but the hemorrhaging has stopped,” Flora said.
Although hurt by Loring’s closing, residents would be supportive of additional military investment and personnel.
The Defense Finance and Accounting Service already has offices in Limestone, and local leaders and residents realize the potential for new jobs outweighs the risk that they might one day disappear, said Austin Blees, city manager in Caribou, adjacent to Limestone.
Local officials have been monitoring the interceptor discussions since last fall.
“We have a lot of retired veterans in Caribou today. The people of Caribou would be welcome and open to a military establishment coming back,” Blees said.
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