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Published October 01, 2009, 07:58 AM

Study to examine potential uses for Nekoma, ND, cold war safeguard complex

New life in Nekoma? When former missileers at the long-abandoned Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex return to Nekoma next July for a reunion, the concrete pyramid on the prairie likely will be abuzz again — with hope for a new life. By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald

By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks (ND) Herald

NEKOMA, N.D. — When former missileers at the long-abandoned Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex return to Nekoma next July for a reunion, the concrete pyramid on the prairie likely will be abuzz again — with hope for a new life.

That could include:

- Redeveloping one-third of the SRMSC into a premier research and development complex for unmanned aircraft systems. The University of North Dakota’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences would lead that part of the project.

- Preserving and developing one-third of the SRMSC into a state historic site to help tell the story of the community’s and region’s role in the Cold War. The project, promoters say, would complement the new Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site near Cooperstown, N.D., about 90 miles south of Nekoma.

- Redeveloping one-third of the property for commercial development/production processing, which may or may not include unmanned vehicle applications.

UND and the Cavalier County Job Development Authority this week received notification of a one-year, $107,662 federal grant from the Economic Development Administration for half of the cost of the study. The remaining money is being raised locally.

The study also will attempt to answer three major questions:

- Who can own it?

- Who can afford it?

- Who can afford to develop it?

MULTIPLE USES

The CCJDA is proposing the federal government turn over the 440-acre site on the north end of the small community of Nekoma to the local group, such as the CCJDA.

“Our goal in developing this property is to develop a variety of uses for the state of North Dakota,” Carol Goodman, CCJDA executive director, said. “It’s exciting to see what Grand Forks and UND are doing in the developing UAV industry. But this is not going to compete with their efforts. We hope this supports them.”

She envisions partnerships with UND, as well as business, industry and government. Among the potential applications are:

- Cold-weather testing of small unmanned vehicles.

- Wind tower inspections. The Nekoma pyramid is located adjacent to the Langdon Wind Energy Center, a 159-megawatt wind farm.

- Agricultural uses, such as inspecting crops for diseases. A North Dakota State University Research Extension Center is located at Langdon, about a dozen miles away.

- Support of military training and operations. The North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Air Wing, based in Fargo, and Grand Forks Air Force Base are combining on a new UAV mission. The air base will be the host the Predator, Global Hawk and Shadow UAVs.

- Training and operations site for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

- Development of an international Emergency Disaster Border Response Training Site.

- Defense-related manufacturing.

- Bio-materials research and development.

ABM HISTORY

The project was the result of a 1972 ABM Treaty between the United States and Soviet Union that designated that an anti-ballistic missile system be located in North Dakota.

With the Cold War threat, and with Nekoma serving as the nerve center of a missile defense system, the community’s and region’s future looked secure.

To most people here, the four-sided concrete pyramid rising from the earth and a nuclear missile field — containing 30 Spartan long-range and 60 Sprint short-range anti-ballistic missiles — were symbols of that security.

The Nekoma installation served as headquarters for a missile system that included four remote missile launch sites within 20 miles of the community, and for the Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR) Site near Cavalier, N.D., which remains in operation.

Then, even quicker than the missile site rose above the prairie, it closed in 1975, after the federal government determined that the missile system technology was out of date.

Since then, many of the houses and other buildings have been demolished or moved.

The government has discussed using the Nekoma site in other defense systems over the years, most recently in the early 1990s. But nothing ever has been developed.

Besides the concrete pyramid, which rises 75 feet into the air and burrows 60 feet underground, the complex still has about a half-dozen administrative and operational buildings.

“The Stanley R. Mickelsen site was supposed to be a major economic force in the region,” Goodman said.

U.S. Census reports that Cavalier County’s population dropped by nearly 40 percent between 1980 and 2000.

“And the last decade hasn’t been any better,” Goodman said. “We look at this project as another way to grow our local economy, to develop some high-tech industries that pay good wages.

“If we pull this off, it has such potential for creative entrepreneurship and for historical significance.”

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