‘Modern barracks’ planned for missile worker housing in Lewistown

Deb Hill
Tuesday, August 9, 2022
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An artist’s rendition from the draft Environmental Impact Statement shows how Sentinel worker housing and communal facilities for up to 3,000 workers might look. An Air Force spokesperson emphasized this drawing is only conceptual; the actual design might look considerably different. Image courtesy of U.S. Air Force

“Nondescript” and “resembling modern barracks” are terms used by the U.S. Air Force to describe the housing to be built in Lewistown for workers on the project to decommission Minute Man III missiles and replace them with the new Sentinel missile system.

At the end of July the Air Force presented an overview of the project, including what the community might expect from being designated a workforce hub. There are only two workforce hubs planned for the Montana portion of the project. The two workforce hubs for Montana missile workers will be located in Lewistown and Great Falls.

At a July 28 community meeting held during the fair, contractors working on the Environmental Impact Statement answered general questions about how the project might affect Central Montana. Those seeking detailed information were referred to the draft EIS document.

The EIS covers a wide range of potential impacts from the Sentinel project, including effects on air quality, water, biology and visual resources (how things look; the viewshed). According to the document, the workforce housing has the potential to impact visual resources at the highest level, VM 4, in the short term. 

While the exact site for Lewistown’s worker housing has not yet been decided, design details are emerging. The Air Force is seeking a 50-60 acre site located in a developed area of the city and near existing infrastructure. According to the EIS, the Air Force plans to coordinate fully with city and county officials and comply with all planning and zoning requirements.

As described in the report, the workforce hub includes a self-contained site with a residential area, a common area and an office/training area. 

The residential area is made up of multiple three-story dormitories housing up to 3,000 single-person dorm rooms. 

The common area includes dining, kitchen, laundry, medical and recreational facilities for the workforce. There will be parking for 600 personal vehicles and 70 buses near the dormitories, with additional parking for 250 more vehicles built in conjunction with the training facilities.

The buildings, because of their temporary nature, are described as nondescript and built for functionality rather than aesthetics. 

After 2-5 years, the workforce hub will be “disassembled and incorporated back into the landscape.” Because efforts will be made to locate the housing hub near already developed areas, and because of the temporary nature of the facility, no long-term effects on visual resources are anticipated.

So far, in this early stage of the project timeline, no specific parcel of land has been identified for the workforce hub facilities. Where they will be built may not be up to the local community, although input will be provided through the City, County, and Port Authority.

“Northrop-Grumman and the military will decide what makes the most sense,” said Fergus County Commissioner Ross Butcher.

“The City has had many conversations with both the Air Force and contractors regarding the upcoming Sentinel project,” Lewistown City Manager Holly Phelps told the News-Argus. “These discussions have always centered around locating a workforce hub in or around Lewistown so that existing infrastructure can be utilized. The hope is that after the completion of this project, the improvements left behind can be utilized in the future.”

Butcher said he thinks the Lewistown Airport business park might be a good location.

“However there are other locations that can work, that are in developed areas and have access to the right infrastructure,” Butcher said. “For example, east of town on Highway 87, near the Big R store, or the hay ground near the fairgrounds. I think if the housing hub was at the airport, it might help kickstart commercial or industrial development up there. I can see the benefits but there are a lot of logistics to consider, including what will be the least intrusive for the community.”

Chair of the Fergus County Port Authority KellyAnne Terry said there will be a series of meetings between Northrop Grumman, the Air Force, and community leaders. 

“This is something that we asked for in the EIS public hearing, for better communication. We’ve been told they are working on a regular schedule of meetings, which will allow the community to learn more about the plans and provide our input,” Terry said.

Terry expects the meetings to start sometime in September but said the dates have not yet been confirmed.