Government Military and Veterans Affairs

Grants sought to bolster infrastructure ahead of missile project

A multi-million-dollar grant fund would be established to aid panhandle communities as they prepare for an influx of contractors to upgrade the area’s aging ICBM missile system under a bill considered Feb. 23 by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Sen. Brian Hardin
Sen. Brian Hardin

LB712, sponsored by Gering Sen. Brian Hardin, would create the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent Deployment Fund and transfer $26 million to it from the state’s Cash Reserve Fund. A grant program to distribute those funds would be administered by the office of the state’s adjutant general.

Funds could be used to address deficiencies in infrastructure, transportation, schools, health care facilities, child care, law enforcement and workforce development to support an upcoming decommissioning and replacement of the Minuteman ICBM systems.

Hardin said the panhandle is home to roughly 80 missile launch facilities and nine missile alert facilities that were built in the 1960s. The U.S. Air Force has been in contact with local leaders in the Kimball area regarding the upcoming changeover to the new Sentinel weapons system, he said, which is scheduled to last roughly 10 years and bring approximately 3,700 contract workers to the area.

While that influx of workers could be a boon for a town like Kimball, Hardin said, it also comes with challenges. The predicted number of workers would mean a 155 percent increase in the town’s population in a very short period of time, he said, which would strain existing infrastructure.

“That’s a scary number,” Hardin said. “We’re told to expect people onsite this year.”

Kimball city administrator Annette Brower testified in support of the bill, calling the Sentinel missile project an “absolute.” The town has been working with the U.S. Department of Defense for the last two years, she said, and Kimball is set to be the housing hub for the project beginning in 2024 — with “shovels in the ground” by this summer.

The city has no choice but to prepare for the influx of workers, she said, and already has invested significant resources in power and wastewater projects.

“We are just too small to tackle it all on our own,” Brower said. “We’re not here asking for a handout; we’re asking for a partner.”

Christy Warner, Kimball County public transit administrator and member of the Kimball City Council, also testified in favor of LB712. The Sentinel project is both exciting and a challenge for the town, she said, and presents a chance to make infrastructure and quality of life changes that could attract permanent residents to the area.

Kimball simply does not have sufficient population to tax in order to meet the growth, she said, and state dollars would enable leaders to access millions in federal grant funds.

“We’re on the brink of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to inject the community and the region with the largest economic [project] we’ve seen in over half a century,” Warner said.

Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, adjutant general of the Nebraska National Guard, testified in a neutral capacity. Modernizing the nation’s missile system is critical to the country’s national security and defense strategy, he said, but the cost of such an upgrade is “best funded” by the initiating institution – in this case, the U.S. Air Force.

Bohac also expressed concern that the bill as written does not provide any resources to the adjutant general’s office to administer the grant program.

No one testified in opposition to LB712 and the committee took no immediate action on the proposal.

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