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Project could bring new life to abandoned missile base

Fifty years ago, the federal government set about building a NIKE missile base on property in Castle Rock to protect the public from its enemies. Fifty years later, one man plans to bring the site back into use -- again, to help protect the public.

A couple of years ago, David Sodergren developed a concept plan for a military and law enforcement training facility. A former law enforcement officer and private investigator, he checked around with a few military and police agencies and learned there were very few places they could get training. The response was favorable.

But there was a problem -- he had an idea, he had support, but he had no site. And then a friend came across a listing for the deserted NIKE missile base in Castle Rock Township. It was perfect.

Another time

It was a different time when the Dakota County NIKE base -- known as MS 40, or Missile Site 40 -- was built. It was one of four bases built in suburban Minnesota, designed to protect the Twin Cities and surrounding areas during the Cold War era.

Originally, the site had three underground storage facilities where the missiles were kept. Missiles were brought into the grounds, lowered on elevators and stored there, ready to be raised and fired in the event of an enemy aircraft attack.

The grounds were fenced in, with soldiers standing guard at the entrances. Barracks were built to house the military men, and a fallout shelter was constructed to keep them safe in the event of an attack.

MS 40 was in operation from 1959 through 1972, closing once the threat had passed. Eventually, the missiles were disassembled. The buildings were left behind, the underground tunnels left intact but locked.

From 1973 to 1995, the site was used by the United States Bureau of Mines as a water-jet and rock-cutting research center. During Desert Storm in the early 1990s, the site was used as a place for radio communications between the men and women serving overseas and their families.

New use

Sodergren bought the land about a year and a half ago, and has spent the time since trying to clean up the site. While the buildings are still very much intact -- but for some asbestos here and there, and the obvious need for updated plumbing and electricity, plus a few good coats of paint -- the grounds were in need of attention.

Sodergren recalls pitching out eight dumpsters of garbage. Much of it was left by the military, but also from teens who, at one time or another over the years, had broken into the grounds and used the site as a party location. A security system was installed, though, and only twice since have any wayward visitors been on the land.

Sodergren has lots of plans for the property, with some buildings being designated as storage and others used for room searches. The barracks are being restored for their intended use -- to house the men and women who come to use the facility.

The underground tunnels were filled by the federal government in 2006, something that disappoints Sodergren, because the area would have been put to good use. But on the land above them, he plans to build a mini city with manufactured housing and a smaller-scale apartment type building.

"I'm envisioning this to be something like the Valleyfair of training centers," Sodergren said. "I want to create a wow factor in the community."

There is still quite a bit of work to do on the property and Sodergren knows it will be a couple of years before he is able to open the site to law enforcement and military groups. Still, he has been making contacts with just about every group he can think of, from the Dakota County Sheriff's department to the National Guard to the U.S. Marshal's Service and the Department of Homeland Security to let them know of his plans.

Sodergren is a member of the Minnesota Airsoft Association, a group that organizes events where members use air guns and ammunition (nonmetalic pellets, like a BB gun) to play out scenarios or military-style tactics. Already, he has a full range of "weapons," most similar to those used by police and the military. Groups will be able to come out to the site, use his airsoft equipment and simulate real situations.

But other groups will also be able to use the site if interested. Sodergren suggests it would be a great location for fire and rescue groups to use, or for people who want to get a handgun permit and want to learn practical use for the weapon.

"This is a perfect facility to get that kind of experience, too," he said.