FAIRBANKS - The Army went against the wishes of Delta Junction residents when it chose a site to build a new military training complex, officials have acknowledged.
The 22,000-acre Eddy Drop Zone was selected over two sites that are farther from town, said Maj. Ben Danner.
The chosen site is 2.2 miles away from the closest home, 4.1 miles from a school on Fort Greely and 7.6 miles from the Delta Junction school, according to Danner. He said the decision was based on environmental and operational factors, construction considerations and community concerns about the area.
"There's just a staggering number of considerations that we look at in order to pick the overall best spot," he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "It was the best site in terms of being able to build the kind of range that would allow us to train the way we need to train."
The construction cost of the selected zone will be as much as 40 percent less expensive at an estimated $65 million than the sites not chosen - the Donnelly Drop Zone, with an estimated construction cost of $100 million, and the Texas Range, with an estimated cost of $113 million.
"This wasn't simply a cost consideration," Danner said. "We looked at the impact to wildlife and vegetation."
The plan is to build two ranges - a combined arms collective training facility and a battle area complex - side by side. That includes constructing mock buildings for soldiers to train for urban assaults. The Army doesn't have such a facility in Alaska, Danner said.
Officials said the new ranges are needed for both the new Stryker Brigade forming at Fort Wainwright and Fort Richardson and the Army's transition into a faster, more lethal fighting force.
Delta Junction City Administrator Pete Hallgren said locals don't object to the project, they're against the location.
"We just figured that picking the spot closest to town is not the best way to go because they do have a huge territory up there," Hallgren said. "People are not against the Stryker Brigade and not against the project. The military is going to have a long-term range life here."
After a public hearing to address a draft of the environmental assessment Feb. 6, the city drafted a lengthy letter to the Army voicing concerns over the Eddy Drop Zone.
One concern is live firing would ignite a wildfire that could potentially burn the town, Hallgren said. People also worry about increased noise and the effect on well water the town relies on, he said.
"I don't have a problem with them trying to do the most economical thing they can do, but somewhere along the line that economy is outweighed by the dangers to the town," Hallgren said.
Danner said 131 separate comments were submitted, each of which was grouped into five areas and addressed in the final assessment that will be released Tuesday.
Because of the concern in the community, Army Alaska Garrison Commander Col. Fred Lehman drove to Delta Junction Friday morning and met with city officials to alert them about the decision and to make sure that all of the protests were taken into consideration.
Paul Knopp, president of the Deltana Community Corp., which manages state funding for the unincorporated area outside Delta Junction, said his concern was the land is used recreationally for hunting and four-wheeling. The community corporation was one of the organizations that protested the Eddy Drop Zone.
"I don't understand why they have to put it there with all of the other land available," Knopp said. "We might have to raise a little more stink."
Another public hearing is scheduled for July 9 in Delta Junction to discuss the final assessment.