GREAT FALLS (AP)
U. S. military officials said Tuesday that they have approved a grant worth almost half a million dollars to study the effects of deactivating Malmstrom Air Force Base's 564th Missile Squadron. The U.S. Secretary of Defense's Office of Economic Adjustment approved the grant, which will help communities adjust to the loss of the squadron's 500 personnel and accompanying road subsidies to counties that house the missiles. "This study is critical to help us find out what the real economic impact of this loss will be," said Pondera County Commissioner Cynthia Johnson, whose county houses 37 of the squadron's 50 Minuteman III missiles. The U.S. Department of Defense pays for snow removal and upgrades for roads that serve active missiles sites. "We are eternally grateful for the roads the Department of Defense will leave us, but now we need to pick up the slack and it will impact our budgets," Johnson said. The military began removing the missiles last summer after the Pentagon said it would reduce by 10 percent the nation's stockpile of 500 missiles overseen from Air Force bases in Minot, N.D., and Cheyenne, Wyo., as well as Malmstrom. The Montana base had the largest stockpile and with the reduction, missile operations in all three states will be the same size. Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming are home to the nation's only intercontinental ballistic missile wings. The grant application was a cooperative effort by Great Falls Development Authority; Sweetgrass Development; the city of Great Falls; Cascade, Pondera, Teton and Toole counties as well as the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Committee of 80. The Great Falls Region Defense Diversification Project also will receive a $70,000 grant from the Montana Department of Commerce.