Grand Forks AFB Safeguard ABM Site

On November 3, 1967, the Department of Defense revealed that Grand Forks AFB was one of 10 initial locations to host a Sentinel ABM site. With President Nixon's March 14, 1969, announcement reorienting ballistic missile defense (BMD) to protect strategic forces, construction at a site outside of Boston ceased and constructing a "Safeguard" installation at Grand Forks became a top priority.

However, construction was stalled throughout mid-1969, as Congress debated the merits of BMD. Finally, after the Senate defeated amendments to kill Safeguard deployment, the Army proceeded under the assumption that appropriations would be forthcoming.

Survey teams selected sites in flat wheatlands close to the Canada-Minnesota border, north-northwest of Grand Forks. Twenty-five miles separated the 279-acre Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR) and the 433-acre Missile Site Radar (MSR) sites. Four remote launch sites of 36 to 45 acres each were to be situated in a circle with a 20 mile radius surrounding the MSR.

Projections called for the availability of 1,000 gallons of water per minute, which threatened to disrupt the regional ecology. To solve the problem, the Corps proposed drawing water from an aquifer located 46 miles from the MSR site and 36 miles from the PAR site. On March 9, 1970, assured that the Corps proposal would not disrupt area groundwater supplies, North Dakota issued a conditional water permit to the Army. Consequently, Zurn Engineers of Upland, California, won a $3.8 million contract to construct a system that would include 10 spaced wells, 3 booster stations, 58 miles of pipe, and on-site reservoirs.

Other environmental impact studies indicated that the facility's diesel power plants would violate State and Federal Clean Air standards. Eventually, the Army contracted Cooper-Bessemer to design and construct pollution suppression devices for their diesel generators.

A Community Impact Team from the Omaha District gauged the effect of construction and deployment on the local population and infrastructure. The study showed local communities would need to expand educational facilities and police and fire protection. Because the Army could not legally provide financial support to these communities to resolve these problems, local legislators sought and received relief from the Federal Government.

Transportation of construction materials provided an additional challenge. The Corps arranged for the Great Northern Railroad to put in a siding at Hensel and for the North Dakota Road Department to improve the light roads leading to the construction sites.

Labor relations were handled through the previously established Grand Forks Missile Sites Labor Committee and with the North Dakota Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, Labor Committee. After several meetings, a final "Project Agreement" emerged that would provide workers a fixed wage and fringe benefit schedule over the 3-year construction period. Addressing travel, subsistence, health, safety, and grievance handling concerns, the Project Agreement provided a foundation for good labor relations during construction.

One difficulty potential contractors faced was meeting new Department of Defense guidelines regarding the hiring of minorities. Safeguard became a DOD pilot program to enforce compliance with the Title VII of 1964 Civil Rights Act and Executive Orders 10925, 11114, and 11246. Contractors were expected to make a "good faith" effort to employ minorities to fill what was unofficially understood to be 6 to 10 percent of the work force.

Potential contractors complained. Meeting the "good faith" goal in a state with a two percent minority population consisting mostly of Native Americans seemed quite unreasonable. However, the joint group of contractors that won the contract did provide an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Affirmative Action Program that met the objectives of the Contracts Compliance Office of the Defense Contract Administration Services. The demographic problem made the "good faith" effort unattainable. When affirmative action goals were changed to rate progress based on percentage of overall hours that minorities worked, the contractors generally met the 6 to 10 percent requirement.

Preparing a bid package was a major logistical undertaking. It consisted of 2,626,200 pages of architectural drawings and 4,340,OOO pages of specifications. On March 26, 1970, bids received were opened and the low bid of $137.8 million was subsequently accepted from the team of Morrison-Knudsen Inc., Peter Kiewit Sons' Company, Fischbach and Moore, Inc., and C.H. Leavell & Co.

Groundbreaking occurred at the PAR and MSR sites on April 6. Excavation proceeded rapidly, and the foundation holes for the PAR and MSR were in place by mid-May.

Work was temporarily halted at the MSR site near Nekoma on "International ABM Day." Consisting of a series of demonstrations held across the country on May 15, 1970, International ABM Day activity in North Dakota included a march on the Nekoma site organized by the "North Dakota Clergy and Laymen Concerned" and the "North Dakota Citizens for a Sane Nuclear Policy." Because Governor William Guy would not allocate resources to protect Federal property, the Army and the four-company consortium, Morrison-Knudsen and Associates, established a nonprovoking strategy consisting of removing all mobile equipment, roping off the excavation and setting up a stage and sanitary accommodations for the protesters away from the construction. By mid-day on the 15th, some 500 protesters arrived at what became known as the "Nekoma Festival of Life and Love." Late in the afternoon, several hundred demonstrators marched toward the excavation as kazoo players played "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Upon arrival, the protesters descended into the hole and performed some symbolic activities such as planting seedlings. Overall, the Army's passive strategy worked, as the day went without violence or arrests and only minimal vandalism. A reporter from Newsweek labeled the protest a "flop."

However, the "flop," along with some minor labor work stoppages and redesign changes, set back a delicate time schedule, which required that the first two levels of the MSR and PAR be roofed over so interior work could proceed throughout the winter. Herculean efforts, including the imposition of 10-hour, 6-day shifts and continuing work as temperatures dipped below zero, allowed interior work to commence over the winter.

As exterior work restarted with the arrival of spring, the contractor faced material transport problems due to load restrictions placed on local roads by the state road department, and some minor labor strife. A shortage of skilled labor was resolved by hiring Canadians, and by late summer, the distinctive shapes laid out on the PAR and MSR facility blueprints became reality as both structures were "topped-out."

Progress was also made in constructing the Spartan and Sprint missile launchers. In addition, Chris Berg Inc. received contracts for the nontechnical support facilities for the personnel who eventually would man the site.

During the spring of 1972, Western Electric Company installed the pieces for the Missile Site Radar and Perimeter Acquisition Radar. To mount the big "Eye" on the PAR building, 245,828 individual pieces had to be assembled.

On May 26, 1972, President Nixon and General Secretary Brezhnev signed the ABM Treaty, which limited each nation to one site to protect strategic forces and one site to protect the "National Command Authority." With work about 85 percent complete at Grand Forks, the United States chose to finish construction at the North Dakota site and cease work at the sister site in Montana.

On August 21,1972, the Corps turned over the PAR to the Safeguard Systems Command (SAFSCOM) Site Activation Team. The transfer of the MSR occurred on January 3, 1973. Work on the four remote launch sites fell behind schedule, with the last being completed on November 5, 1972. Testing of the PAR commenced during the summer of 1973.

On September 3, 1974, the SAFSCOM Site Activation Team was relieved by the U.S. Army Safeguard Command. Named the "Stanley R. Mickelson Complex," the North Dakota ABM site received its complement of nuclear-tipped Spartan and Sprint Missiles during the following spring. The site was declared operational on April 1, 1975. Due to Congressional action, the Army operated the site for less than a year. With the exception of the PAR, the complex was abandoned in February 1976. In October 1977, the PAR came under operational control of the Air Force, which operated it thereafter as part of its early warning system.

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