Grand Forks Herald

Published October 17, 2012, 07:45 AM

Feds put Nekoma missile site up for sale

The federal government is soliciting online bids for an abandoned Cold War-era missile base in Nekoma, N.D., that the state insists must be cleansed of hazardous wastes.

By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald

The federal government is soliciting online bids for an abandoned Cold War-era missile base in Nekoma, N.D., that the state insists must be cleansed of hazardous wastes. Removing the 420,000 or so gallons of groundwater that has seeped into the underground silos at the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard complex and cleaning it as the state wants would cost $4 million to $6 million, the government has estimated.

But the government says it doesn’t believe there is any contamination, and is going ahead with the bidding process. Five separate parcels, including the main Nekoma complex and four remote missile-launch sites, are for sale "as is."

The controversy could threaten long-term plans by the Cavalier County Job Development Authority to buy the complex and turn it into an unmanned aircraft research center, among other uses.

CCJDA Executive Director Carol Goodman said her agency is exercising caution. "We want to also make sure we have a little more information on what the government's response will be to the notice of violation."

The state Health Department issued the notice to the U.S. Army and Base Realignment and Closure Division on Aug. 24, seeking a response, including a plan for cleanup.

The division responded Oct. 3, stating that the Army acknowledges the groundwater but "rejects the assertion" that hazardous waste has been generated or stored on the property.

"The SRMSC site has been inactive since 1976 and has since seen no military mission operation,” the division said in a letter. “Since its deactivation, the Army has conducted extensive restoration of the site and received a ‘No Further Remedial Action’ record of decision from the U.S. EPA in 2002 endorsed by NDDH Environmental Health, Division of Waste Management."

On Oct. 9, the U.S. General Services Administration opened bidding on the property.

"I found that interesting," said Scott Radig, waste management division manager with the state Health Department. "Personally I can't imagine anyone being interested in that property with that hanging over it."

Big plans
In the meantime, the CCJDA is preparing to register to bid on the property; registration requires a $20,000 deposit.

The authority, which has been working on plans for the old base since 2006, hopes to turn it into a business park focusing on research and development on civilian unmanned aircraft system, an education and training center and a Cold-War historical interpretive center.

The Safeguard complex in the Nekoma area once housed 100 missiles meant to shoot down Soviet nuclear missiles; a radar facility near Cavalier, N.D., is still in operation under Air Force management. Following an arms treaty with the Soviet Union, Congress shut down the Safeguard project in 1975 and all the missiles were removed by 1977.

The CCJDA received a $108,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration in 2009 and $600,000 from the state Legislature in 2011 to develop unmanned aircraft at the Nekoma complex. Other funds come from the state Department of Commerce and various private groups.

On the Web: For more information on the Nekoma facility and the GSA auction go to

Call Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1110; or send email to