RANGELEY, Maine (AP) — The Department of Defense has scheduled four public hearings this week in Maine to gauge local support for locating a proposed missile defense site near Rangeley and to assess the impact the facility would have on land where the Navy currently holds survival training.
The department's Missile Defense Agency is considering four possible locations in the country for an interceptor site aimed at protecting the East Coast in response to a perceived threat from Iran, which is believed to be developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. currently has two interceptor sites on the West Coast.
The meetings in Maine are scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday in Rangeley and Thursday in Farmington.
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said they were monitoring the process to determine if the public supports having a facility near Rangeley that could accommodate dozens of ground-based missiles and silos, along with housing.
Collins, who previously advocated for putting the interceptor site at the former Limestone Air Force Base, noted that the National Research Council has concluded the nation has gaps in its ballistic missile defense.
"This is a concern because an interceptor site would take years to construct and Iran could develop ballistic missiles that are capable of reaching the United States as early as next year," said Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for Collins.
The Limestone idea was scrapped last fall because the federal government no longer owns the land. Another proposed site in Vermont was withdrawn because of lack of support from political leaders there. That left the Navy's "Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape" school in Redington Township; Fort Drum in northern New York; Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center in Ohio; and Fort Custer CTC in Michigan.
Public hearings have been held in Ohio, and will be held in New York and Michigan later this month.
The entire process is expected to take a couple of years.
The 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.
King, for his part, remains unconvinced the country needs the interceptor system, and said he "will be in close contact with Defense Department officials to determine whether an additional missile defense site is eventually required to defend the United States," said Scott Ogden, his spokesman.