GREAT FALLS — As part of planning for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) project, the proposed replacement for the nation’s Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) system, the Air Force will be conducting cultural resources, biological resources, and wetland surveys from July 12 through October 22, 2021, of proposed project areas that extend through parcels owned by private landowners, as well as parcels administered by federal and state agencies.
A news release from Malmstrom Air Force Base - which maintains and operates 150 ICBMs located in silos across north and central Montana - says the surveys will be used to determine if there are sensitive resources located within those areas. Right-of-Entry (ROE) request letters were sent in March of 2021 to landowners along those project areas requesting access to conduct these surveys. This is preliminary fact-finding work that will inform the development of an Environmental Impact Statement.
In the fall of 2020, the Air Force began preparing an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to its responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Air Force Environmental Impact Analysis Process to analyze the potential effects on the human and natural environments from the deployment of the GBSD weapon system, and the decommissioning and disposal of the Minuteman III ICBM. The GBSD weapon system represents the continued modernization of the United States' land-based nuclear arsenal with the replacement of the aging Minuteman III. Deployment-related actions would primarily occur both on base and in the missile fields at F.E. Warren Air Force Base (AFB), Wyo.; Malmstrom AFB, Mont.; and Minot AFB, N.D.
Right of Entry Requests
In the spring of 2021, right-of-entry request correspondence from Lt. Col. Michelle L.E. Sterling, commander of the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron, was sent to local landowners who may have a portion of their property along proposed project areas, requesting access by the government to conduct biological and cultural resource field surveys. The request is to allow the Air Force and its contractors to access private property to conduct the surveys.
The request is being made because launch facilities, communication systems, infrastructure, and technologies would be modernized and replaced as necessary to support the GBSD system. Approximately 1,780 miles of new utility corridors are proposed across the three missile fields at F.E. Warren AFB, Malmstrom AFB, and Minot AFB. Preliminary analysis indicates more than 90 percent of new corridors would be on private land, needing limited rights of way in support of some of the infrastructure.
Field surveys will be done of project areas being explored for utility corridors, communication towers, and areas surrounding some of the existing Missile Alert Facilities (MAF).
- Utility corridor project areas to be surveyed would generally be aligned along established roads (50–150 feet on either side of the road).
- Surveys for communication towers would include 5-acre project areas near existing roads. MAF project areas to be surveyed would include an area extending 360 feet from the current MAF property boundary.
- Field survey personnel will only work at those portions of the property that are included in the proposed project areas or are necessary to fully record identified environmental and or cultural resources.
- Project areas are generally located adjacent to or near existing roads, thus access to the parcels requiring survey will be by existing roads.
- Survey crews will park at a safe location off the pavement of adjacent public roads or at a location at the direction of the landowner.
- A placard will be placed on the dashboard of each vehicle to identify it as a vehicle associated with the project.
- Crews, wearing proper safety vests, will work in small teams of two to four individuals.
- Fencing will not be altered or damaged during surveys and all gates will be left in the state found (i.e., opened or closed) when accessing survey areas.
Cultural Resources Surveys
After access to a parcel is received from the landowner, via the Right of Entry Agreement, surveys will be conducted by project archaeologists to identify resources such as archaeological deposits, architectural resources, or other cultural resources. The results of the cultural resource survey efforts will be described in survey reports that will be used by the Air Force to inform its analyses in the environmental impact statement, to provide information to the federal and state agencies the Air Force is working with on the GBSD project, and to meet the Air Force's obligations under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
- The survey team will walk the project area and conduct visual observations to identify cultural resources.
- Any identified resources will be recorded using hand-held computer tablets, notes, forms, drawings, photographs, and GPS coordinates.
- Pin flags might be used to mark identified resources during recording but will be removed before leaving the study area.
- No artifacts will be removed from the property. In certain circumstances, to identify the boundaries of an identified cultural resource, small hand-dug subsurface trowel or shovel probes might be required.
- These areas will not exceed six probes, 20 inches diameter by 20 inches deep, per identified resource.
- If probes are necessary, all excavated soil will be placed back into the probes before leaving the study area.
- Recording and analysis of cultural resources may require multiple visits to a specific project area during the term of the ROE Agreement.
Biological Resources and Wetlands Surveys
- After access to a parcel is received from the landowner, via the Right of Entry agreement, surveys will be conducted by project biologists to identify the presence of threatened, endangered, and other sensitive species and their habitat and to map the boundaries of wetlands.
- Surveys could include rare plant species, rare bird species, rare mammals, bats, and insects.
- Because different species require specific survey protocols, work could occur throughout the day and could require multiple entries.
- Crews will take photographs, collect data points using handheld global positioning system equipment, and may collect samples of vegetation for detailed analysis later in the lab.
- Hydrology will be determined through visual observations of surface conditions such as surface water, evidence of recent flow, or water-deposited debris.
- To evaluate soil conditions, wetland survey crews will hand dig 12-18 inches deep test pits where the soil will be investigated for signs of hydric soils. Test pits will be refilled before leaving the study area.
- Fieldwork may require multiple visits to a specific project area during the term of the ROE Agreement.
Real Estate Land Surveys or Appraisals
Following environmental surveys to be conducted in 2021, the Air Force may request access to narrow corridors of land to evaluate potential easements needed for the GBSD project utility corridor. Access would be restricted to the proposed corridor footprint which is estimated to be no more than 25 feet wide, and property boundary lines/corners nearest to the corridor.
If landowners have questions about the letter requesting right of entry or the right of entry agreement that they received, they may visit www.gbsdeis.com [gbsdeis.com], speak with someone at the USACE office by calling 1-800-265-9309 or they can make contact via email at ROEhelpdesk@usace.army.mil.