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Report on proposed NGA sites: find out where they stand

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District
Draft Environmental Impact Statement for NGA.

A study of four possible sites for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s relocation is out, and the city of St.Louis is very much in the running.

(You can read the 468 page report here.)

The NGA is planning to move from its current location south of downtown St. Louis and build a new $1.6 billion facility.

In an important step in the federal process, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its draft Environmental Impact Statement on Friday. It basically breaks down the pros and cons of each of the four sites, which include 100 acres in north St. Louis city, farmland in St. Clair County, the former Chrysler plant in Fenton, and the MetLife/Sigma Aldrich facility in Mehlville.

Since St. Louis County Steven Stengerthrew his support to the city site, we’re going to concentrate on handicapping the Corps’ assessment of the north St. Louis and St. Clair County locations.

St. Louis 

One of the biggest considerations — moving about 200 residents from the north St. Louis site — does not seem to present too great a hurdle, according to the report.

The analysis in the Environmental Justice portion of the report said the relocation of businesses and residents would be borne mostly by minority and low-income populations. Yet it said the relocation of the NGA to the site could have a “stabilizing effect” on the community. It noted that of the 42 homeowners living in the area, less than 10 percent were unwilling to relocate, and that the city is following Missouri statutes in moving residents.

St. Louis Development Corporation executive director Otis Williams is overseeing the city’s effort to move residents. He said the city is undertaking the effort with care.

"We’re working and have offered to do a lot of things that can accommodate and facilitate getting them moved without doing any harm," Williams said.

The proposed site for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in north St. Louis.
Credit (courtesy NGA)
Proposed 100-acre NGA site in north St. Louis city.

The report also said the NGA’s move to north St. Louis would result in “major benefits” to the visual character of the site. It listed “non-major” benefits, such as health and safety improvement, construction spending, induced employment, cleanup of existing hazardous contamination, land use improvements, and the reduction of weed species.

Throughout the report it was noted that the city of St. Louis would lose $2.4 million if the NGA chooses either of the sites in St. Louis County or St. Clair County. It termed that a "low to moderate long-term negative impact." Meanwhile, the city would lose only about $64,000 in property taxes each year if the federal agency moves into the site (because the government doesn’t pay taxes).

It did note that construction of NGA West in north city would require the demolition of the Buster Brown-Blue Ribbon Shoe Factory and homes within the St. Louis Place Historic District.

"We always knew that we needed to address the historic preservation issues, the environmental issues; we needed to address redirecting the utilities that are lacing through the site," Williams said. "There aren’t really any physical issues that we cannot address."

St. Clair County

The county owns the 182-acre site just outside of Scott Air Force Base and has offered to give the land to the federal government. While seen as a major plus for the county’s ability to attract the NGA, there was no mention made of land costs in the report.

Yet in the summary of the findings for St. Clair County, one sentence stuck out:

"No major environmental benefits are associated with this site; however, there is a potential major negative impact."

Credit (courtesy NGA)
Proposed 182-acre NGA site in St. Clair County near Scott Air Force Base.

It turns out a previously identified archeological site is listed with the National Register of Historic Places within the county’s proposed NGA site. St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern said he doesn’t expect it to be a major problem.

"We think it will probably cost St. Clair County about $170,000 to mitigate the site," he said. "It appears to be a German farmhouse built sometime in the 1850's to 1880's from the items found on the site. So really it’s not that significant."

The report also noted that the average round-trip commute for NGA employees would increase from 26 miles to 58 miles if the facility moves to St. Clair County. That, however, is within federal thresholds for pollutants.

While St. Clair County would not lose property taxes, it would lose some farm income. About 80 percent of the proposed site is leased out to two farmers. Again, Kern said that shouldn’t be a hurdle.

"Certainly the income from the farm is very negligible compared to what the benefits of what the NGA would bring to this county," he said.

Other considerations in the report include a two-acre, forested wetland that would be displaced by construction. It said the FAA would also need to perform an aeronautical study to determine any impact on fight patterns, which the report said should be minimal.

All in all, Kern said the report was what St. Clair County officials expected.

"It’s in draft form, so there are things that we hope can be amended or expanded upon when they have their public hearings," he said, "and we’ll be looking forward to talking about those things at that time."

Time for public input

The public can comment on the U.S. Army Corps’ report beginning on Friday until Nov. 23. There will be three public hearings held in late October in south St. Louis County, St. Clair County, and in the city of St. Louis. (See the graph above for times and locations.)

Those who can’t attend may email nextngawest@usace.army.mil or send a comment by mail: Next NGA West, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City District, Room 529, 601 E. 12th Street, Kansas City, MO.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.