EDGEMONT, S.D. (AP) — The plains around here spread out like an ocean, so it's fitting that the man who wants to plant a survival community on those plains is comparing his concrete bunkers — including his newly outfitted showroom bunker — to underwater vessels.

"This is fully autonomous," he told the Rapid City Journal . "Each one is effectively like a submarine."

The man is Robert Vicino, of Del Mar, California. During the past couple of years, it has been widely reported by the Journal and others that Vicino's company, The Vivos Group, is trying to lease 575 former military munitions bunkers in southwest South Dakota to doomsday preppers, for use in case of an asteroid strike, a nuclear war or any other catastrophic event. Lease prices are as much as $25,000 upfront, plus $1,000 annually thereafter, and lessees are expected to outfit the empty bunkers themselves.

The global publicity has been met with some skepticism and predictions that the project will fizzle, and that the expansive grounds of the former munitions depot 8 miles south of Edgemont will remain nothing but a cattle pasture punctuated by hundreds of earth-covered, igloo-like structures.

After all, who would pay $25,000 for an empty concrete bunker in one of the remotest corners of the country?

According to the inveterate salesman Vicino, plenty of people will, and many already have. He declined to disclose how many leases he has sold, and the Journal has no way to verify his claims, but he said the first phase of the project is nearly sold out. That first phase consists of the "F'' block of bunkers, one of seven lettered blocks of bunkers being offered for lease.

Vicino's commitment to the project is evidenced by his showroom bunker, which the Journal recently in advance of Vicino's second annual xFest. The week-long event is an opportunity for the public to see the showroom bunker and camp on the grounds in exchange for a $25-per-person entry fee.

Inside the showroom bunker, Vicino has transformed 2,200 square feet of empty space into a living arrangement with room for at least 16 people and furnishings to rival the comforts of home.

Just inside the bunker's massive concrete door, there is a mud room between two closets. One closet will house an air filtration system, and the other houses a water-pressurization and filtration system, and a hot water heater.

Piping is being laid to bring water from two deep wells that were drilled by the military to serve the munitions depot — which was essentially a giant warehouse complex for bombs and other weaponry — while it was active from 1942 to 1967.

Beyond the mudroom is a large common area with a full kitchen, dining tables, and a sitting area. Beyond that, the rest of the bunker has been divided into a total of nine rooms on either side of a central hallway.

One room has a television and comfortable couch; several rooms have beds, including a kids' room with bunk beds; there is a full bathroom with a composting toilet (Vicino said some lessees might install septic systems); and other rooms are empty and open for conversion to whatever purpose a prepper might desire. Each room has carpet or vinyl flooring, and the concrete walls are painted with various colors.

Above the rooms, in the gap between their flat ceilings and the top of the domed bunker, Vicino said there is attic space for a year's worth of food and supplies.

At the very back of the bunker, a utility room houses three barrels of diesel fuel for a generator. The generator is in a concrete-block-walled closet within the utility room, and an exhaust fan blows the generator's fumes out a small chimney atop the bunker.

There was a fume-like smell in the bunker during the tour. When asked if the smell might be coming from the generator and might therefore be dangerous, Vicino said all the fumes were being blown out the chimney. A man with Vicino said the smell was the scent of new construction.

Vicino said the generator is designed to run for six hours daily to charge a battery, which would then power the bunker at other hours.

The earthen-covered bunkers need little to no climate control, Vicino said, but he said an air-handling system could capture and recycle heat given off by the generator in winter, and force warm air outside during the summer.

Vicino said the bunker could be locked down and self-sustaining for up to a year. But he will not permit anyone to live in the bunkers until a catastrophic event occurs; in the meantime, he said, government regulations prevent the use of windowless bunkers as permanent residential dwellings.

Vicino said his experience outfitting the showroom bunker demonstrated that other bunkers could be similarly outfitted in a few weeks with a crew of four at a cost of about $75,000, on top of lease payments. The showroom bunker itself has already sold for $150,000, Vicino said, to a customer who wanted to buy a pre-furnished bunker.

Vicino is also offering an alternative lease option, with an upfront payment of $7,500 per person, for shared bunkers to house up to 24 people.

The 575 bunkers for lease are owned by a ranching company that grazes cattle on the land around them. Vicino is leasing the bunkers from that company, and then sub-leasing the bunkers to his customers. The rest of the bunkers on the massive site — there are said to be 802 in all — are under the control of other owners and are not being offered for lease by Vicino.

His bunkers alone stretch across 18 square miles, each one at least 400 feet apart, in a layout that Vicino said was originally intended to prevent accidental explosions from becoming a chain-reaction disaster.

The South Dakota bunker complex, which Vicino calls Vivos xPoint, is one of several survival-shelter projects that Vicino said he has under various states of development in places including Indiana, the Rocky Mountains, Germany and South Korea.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com