Minuteman Missile
Historic Resource Study
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Section II — Life on the South Dakota Plains: Before, During, and After Minuteman

Chapter 3:
Minuteman Missile Sites in South Dakota (1960s-80s)

In the late 1950s the Air Force chose South Dakota as one of the locations to base the nation's nuclear arsenal with the installation of Minuteman missiles. The Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) began surveying sites throughout western South Dakota by the fall of 1960, and subsequently began negotiating with landowners for rights-of-entry to construct Launch Facilities (LF) and Launch Control Facilities (LCF) on their property. The Minuteman I Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) construction program at Ellsworth Air Force Base progressed rapidly. Under supervision of the Army Corps , Peter Kiewit and Sons' Inc. (Kiewit Company), the Boeing Corporation, and their subcontractors began construction of the 150 LFs and fifteen LCFs during the fall of 1961. Their work, both in construction and then in activation of the Minuteman I, furthered the nation's defense program, but also affected western South Dakota economically and socially, an influence that remained through the Minuteman's deactivation.

Site Location

The Air Force's policy on site selection in South Dakota was multifaceted. Sites were primarily selected by balancing a variety of criteria, including maximizing Minuteman operations, minimizing each sites' vulnerability to sabotage, using the taxpayers' money wisely, and adapting individual sites to construction and operational needs, all with an eye to unique qualities of individual locations. [204] Other factors that contributed to the selection of sites were the physical features of the land, including the geology and terrain of the area, the types of soil, and the amount of available ground water. [205]

For cost and efficiency, the Air Force located missile sites near the existing Ellsworth Air Force Base in order to provide logistical support to the facilities. The missiles were located within an area approximately one hundred miles east and north of the base, in an expanse covering approximately 13,500 square miles of western South Dakota. The three Minuteman I ICBM squadrons at Ellsworth Air Force Base, each consisting of five LCFs and fifty LFs, were located in the vicinity of the communities of Wall, Union Center, and Belle Fourche. [206]

The Air Force positioned each missile flight (one LCF and ten LFs) in the same geographic area, but individual LFs could not be directly adjacent to another LF or the LCF. Minimally, the Air Force required LFs and LCFs to be geographically separated by an area large enough to withstand a ten-megaton explosion at an adjacent facility. Air Force specifications also required that the sites be separated so multiple facilities could not be targeted together. [207] The Air Force additionally attempted to select sites that would have the least adverse effect on nearby communities and private property. [208]

Land Purchase

The Air Force selected LF and LCF sites based on the surveys completed by the Army Corps, Omaha District Office. Prior to construction of the missile sites in South Dakota, right-of-entry, easements, and land purchase agreements needed to be made with hundreds of property owners. The acquisition for the 150 LFs, fifteen LCFs, and approximately 1,732 miles of Hardened Intersite Cable System (HICS) connecting the facilities included three phases. The first phase was securing right-of-entry for survey and exploration of proposed sites. Next, the Air Force worked with landowners to obtain right-of-entry for facility construction. The final phase included negotiations for land purchase or permanent easements and compensation for damages during the construction of the facilities. [209]

Phase one began in the fall of 1960. The right-of-entry Air Force representatives inspected potential sites throughout western South Dakota to assess the soil, geology, terrain, and ground water for suitability for site construction. [210] By early 1961 the locations for the LFs and LCFs were identified and HICS routes mapped. Following site selection, the Army Corps solicited landowner's signatures for right-of-entry to commence construction of the LFs and LCFs on their property. For the construction of each LCF or LF the Air Force required temporary construction easements of between four to six acres for construction equipment and dirt removed from the silos. [211] Following the right-of-entry for construction, the Army Corps negotiated with landowners to purchase the land. In land purchase and easement negotiations, the government was required to provide just compensation, defined as fair market value. [212]

In addition to land purchase, the government obtained permanent easements at the LF and LCF sites. It needed these easements in order to restrict land use in the area surrounding each LF and LCF to certain types of construction and agricultural activities. [213] The government also obtained permanent easements for the access road at both the LF and LCF and for the azimuth markers at each LF site, which were located outside of the fence and used to site the missile. Following construction the land was inspected by a real estate representative of the Army Corps and through negotiation an agreement was made with the owner for a cash settlement of any damages. [214]

Army Corps representatives negotiated with several hundred more property owners for easements for the underground HICS connecting the LFs and LCFs. These cables, installed four to eight feet below ground and used to transmit data between missile sites, required a temporary construction easement of thirty-five feet in width for approximately 1,732 miles between all 165 sites. After construction was complete, the government obtained a permanent easement for a path sixteen and one-half feet wide. [215] Following installation of the HICS, landowners could return to using the land above the cable for normal ranching or agricultural activities.

Such large-scale construction was not without its inconveniences, and to address some of the issues pertaining to land acquisition during this initial period, the Army Corps real estate field office distributed a pamphlet to property owners in western South Dakota titled "Facts About Minuteman Land Acquisition." The pamphlet promised landowners that the government would negotiate for the purchase of property and address any damages and losses. The pamphlet reminded the property owners that the Constitution permits the taking of private property for public use as long as the landowner was paid "just compensation." [216] Even with the issue of national security at stake, policymakers had no desire simply to confiscate land. If the landowners and the government could not agree on compensation, however, the government had the right to acquire the land through condemnation. A declaration of taking was filed and compensation was deposited with the court for the property owner. Negotiations continued and if an agreement could not be made the condemnation case would be brought to trial.

Minuteman Missile Area Landowners Association

While construction crews built some of the Minuteman sites in South Dakota on land already owned by the government, such as LF Delta-09, contractors constructed most of the sites on private property. During the site-selection process, some landowners did not feel that the Army Corps provided enough information to sign rights-of-entry to their property. To ensure that the government took landowners' rights into consideration during site selection and fairly compensated landowners, a group of farmers and ranchers formed the Minuteman Missile Area Landowners Association (MALA) in the early 1960s.MALA disseminated information to area landowners, believing that working collectively would aid the defense effort while safeguarding their private interests.

Members paid a minimal fee of one dollar to participate in the organization, primarily to cover the cost of postage and mailings. The MALA's first president was Eugene Pellegrin of Enning, South Dakota, and the first vice president was Cecil Hayes of Elm Springs, South Dakota. Eight additional members, including Burle Dartt, Ray Naescher, Ben Paulsen, Tony Oergerli, Robert Simpfendoerfer, Delbert Paulsen, Ferdinand Schroeder, and Leonel Jensen, served as directors to assist in collecting and distributing information. [217] In addition to nearly 150 MALA members supporting their cause, United States Senator Francis H. Case also attempted to assist negotiations between the landowners and the Air Force and Army Corps. Although Case was a longtime proponent of strong national defense and a supporter of the Minuteman I missile program at Ellsworth Air Force Base, he often corresponded with the landowner organization and the Army Corps concerning the project and advocated for fair and timely compensation. [218]

Most landowners understood that the national defense program required the installation of Minuteman missiles, and the technical reasons why the Air Force required use of their land. Prior to signing any agreements, however, MALA members wanted the government to address the disadvantages of having a LF or LCF constructed within their property. Many landowners were concerned that the location of the proposed sites would disrupt irrigation systems, take irreplaceable land, or interfere with agricultural operations. While their primary stated goal was to obtain a reasonable settlement for land and construction damages, the group also wanted to minimize the effects of the missile system upon nearby schools, roads, and the local police force. [219]

Prior to signing rights-of-entry needed for construction, the MALA voiced their concerns with Air Force and Army Corps personnel at several meetings in Rapid City in 1960 and 1961. MALA members questioned how the Air Force selected locations for the LFs and LCFs. Individual MALA members desired to know if selected sites could be moved to sections of their property less desirable for agricultural purposes. [220] In early April 1961, an Army Corps real estate representative explained that the missiles were part of an interrelated system and the location could not be altered aside from minor changes. [221] One property owner offered to donate the land if the Air Force would move the proposed LF to a corner of the wheat field instead of in the middle. His offer was rejected, and, in this case, the Air Force did not alter the proposed site for this facility. [222]

MALA members also pressed the Air Force at these meetings for further information about compensation for their land and losses. Many wanted to know what assessment they should expect for their property, and if they would receive compensation for damages incurred during construction or from decreases in land value due to the presence of the missiles in the area. [223] Army Corps officials responded that landowners were entitled to fair compensation for their losses and that the dollar value would be reached through negotiation between the government agency and individual property owners. Compensation for damages would be negotiated in much the same way. [224] Although many landowners received compensation for their land and losses, some felt the settlement offered was inadequate. [225]

After months of meetings and negotiations, seventy-five percent of the property owners of proposed missile sites signed rights-of-entry agreements by July of 1961. At the same time, approximately ninety percent of landowners involved with the underground cables had also signed agreements. [226] MALA president Pellegrin stated in a newspaper article that many of the property owners who refused to sign the agreement were negotiating for damages unique to their property. [227] In some cases, property owners never signed the rights-of-entry agreement needed to begin construction and in these cases, the Army Corps filed declarations of taking and deposited money with the court for the property owner. The Army Corps based the compensation on the government's original estimate of fair market value for the property. [228]

Despite efforts of the MALA to protect their rights and obtain compensation for their losses, some members of the public and government criticized the organization's members. They condemned landowners for slowing the defense effort, termed them unpatriotic, and accused them of holding up new business created by the influx of construction workers and additional Air Force officers. [229] The Air Force and Army Corps often reminded members of the MALA and other residents of western South Dakota of the importance of the Minuteman I ICBM program to the security of the United States. For example, the land acquisition pamphlet distributed to property owners stated, "like its prototype, the Minuteman of 1774, this immensely-important project for our national defense is authorized by the Congress of the United States." [230] Criticism aside, however, not every delay in Minuteman construction could be pinned on reluctant landowners. As late as March 1961, Congress had not yet fully appropriated the funding for the Minuteman I ICBM missile program at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Therefore, property owners did not stall construction of the sites in South Dakota or the nation's defense effort. [231] In reality, the land acquisition and construction of the Minuteman I missile facilities in South Dakota was an accelerated program that exceeded many expectations. Approximately one year after Army Corps representatives started testing soil and mapping missile facilities contractors began construction. After the construction of the LFs and LCFs in western South Dakota the MALA disbanded. The organization remained inactive until the early 1990s when the Air Force began the deactivation process of the Minuteman II ICBMs and a new generation of property owners worked together to disseminate information and provide support.

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Last Updated: 19-Nov-2003