May 24, 2023
The construction phase of Sentinel, the Air Force’s multi-billion-dollar missile modernization effort, was cleared to begin May 19 as Robert Moriarty, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for Installations, signed the project’s environmental record of decision.
“This decision is the linchpin that gives us the authority to proceed with numerous construction activities supporting the Sentinel program,” said Ken Rogers, chief of Sentinel Infrastructure Division, Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center. “This is a very important milestone the Sentinel National Environmental Policy Act team was able to deliver on time, which allows the Sentinel program to move to the next step.”
The record of decision, or ROD, details the findings of the Air Force’s analysis of environmental, natural resource and cultural considerations in the construction of the Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile project. The document identifies the selected course of action and basis for the decision and provides information on how the Air Force intends to avoid, minimize or mitigate environmental impacts throughout the life of the project, to the maximum extent possible.
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The Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s NEPA team partnered with the AFNWC to conduct the environmental impact analysis that led to the decision. AFCEC is a primary subordinate unit of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center.
The Sentinel project will replace the 50-year-old Minuteman III ICBM program. The effort to modernize the land-based leg of the nation’s nuclear triad touches multiple states, covers thousands of miles, and impacts communities in Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.
“The Sentinel project is a complex, dynamic, vast enterprise that will bring global stability to the United States for years to come,” said Gen. Thomas Bussiere, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command. “We are grateful for the mission partners who have shepherded this phase of the process to completion and who are continuing work to ensure the success of the largest Department of Defense modernization program launched in the last 50 years.”
Air Force teams began gathering data in support of three key pieces of the Sentinel environmental analysis in 2019. The cultural resource programmatic agreement, the natural resource biological opinion and the environmental impact statement all had to be completed prior to the secretary’s decision.
Nine public hearings and dozens of consultations with tribes, federal agencies and other stakeholders informed each of the elements analyzed and ensured the Air Force had visibility on the public’s environmental concerns related to the Sentinel.
The EIS project managers, Russell Bartholomew, AFNWC, and Stephanie Newcomer, AFCEC, guided what many consider the largest-scoped environmental impact analysis in the history of NEPA.
Community engagements encouraged the teamwork needed to make this part of the process successful, Newcomer said.
“This project shows the Air Force is sensitive to balancing mission requirements and environmental impacts,” Newcomer said. “We wanted the public to see that we are going to minimize our environmental impact as much as we can while supporting our national security.”
Citing examples of cultural resource experts living out of suitcases to complete more than 50 face-to-face tribal consultations that turned stakeholders into mission partners, Bartholomew said the Sentinel NEPA team’s commitment to the environment was evident throughout the four-plus years leading up to the signing.
“By starting stakeholder engagements early, the team created many opportunities where we were able to truly understand stakeholder concerns and, through further discussion and identification of mitigating actions, the team moved the conversation to a point where our mission partners were on board,” Rogers said.
“Never in my career have I seen an EIS for a proposed action of this magnitude go as smoothly. It is truly remarkable what this team has been able to accomplish,” said Col. Chris Stoppel, Nuclear Enterprise Division chief, AFCEC.
With the Sentinel ROD officially signed and in place, officials will now move forward with permitting and construction of the installation command center and the material handling complex at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming later this year. Project activities at Malmstrom AFB, Montana, are expected to begin in 2026 and at Minot AFB, North Dakota, in 2029.
“So many people and organizations with unique ideas came together and made this happen,” Newcomer said. “We all came to the table and made this work for our country. It has been very humbling to be part of this process.”