The MX Missile Project

Martha Sonntag Bradley
History of Beaver County

In 1979 the United States Air Force announced plans for a new intercontinental ballistic missile system that would be deployed on a circular railroad track so that more than 200 missiles could be moved into 4,600 shelters to be constructed along the track. The Air Force considered sites in Nevada and Utah, and western Beaver County became a top candidate for the project.

At the end of 1980, the Beaver County News announced that MX was the county’s top news story for the year. While government officials weighed the strategic pros and cons of the various sites, county residents considered the impacts of the influx of between 12,000 and 105,000 construction workers, the economic boon it would be for the county, the impact the project would have on county land, water, and air, and what the future of the county would be as MX would undoubtedly become a major factor in American-Soviet relations and perhaps the beginning point of a future nuclear war. Construction was expected to be completed by 1994.

In January 1980 the Milford City Council voted to encourage the Air Force to consider the area for one of the major bases. The council was not in favor of county land being used only for shelters which would provide little economic benefit, but urged that one of the major bases serving MX be built as close to Milford as possible.

Utah governor Scott Matheson held a town meeting in the Milford High School auditorium on 23 February 1980 to discuss the project. The meeting indicated deeply divided opinions about MX. Wall Gregerson stated he believed that the “silent majority” in the county were not opposed to MX, but “…most object to the possible change in their way of life.” Gregerson went on to express the concerns of many: “It could be catastrophic if Russia attacks. Russians cannot be trusted.” He referred to their past actions and their presence in Afghanistan, indicating the need to support this plan to defend the United States from Soviet aggression.

Jay Hiatt lamented the fact that Milford’s population was stagnant and that young people had to leave the area to find employment. He concluded, “We’d like to see some growth. If MX is it, we’ll accept it and overcome the problems.”

Vern Wood, speaking for the Wood and Eyre Cattle Company which ran cattle in Pine Valley, feared that MX would force them out of business because contrary to Air Force promises that cattle would be permitted to graze around the clusters, it would not be possible. Furthermore, there was no extra water in the county to support the project and “…we’ll lose one half of Beaver County to MX including antelope herds and recreation.”

Dr. D.A. Synond argued that only a small minority supported the projects, which included the major newspaper’s editor and those “…who…expected to make big bucks.” He went on to predict, “The impact of MX would be inflationary beyond belief. The impact on environment and communities would be a horror.” He suggested “…that instead of building more war-making machines, we should help the world feed themselves and make the world beautiful.” If local residents were ambivalent about MX, so was the rest of the nation. Concerns of cost, actual need, and long-range impacts were debated in Congress and among military leaders. When the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement that MX was not wanted in Utah, it became clear that the controversial project would have a difficult time ever becoming a reality.

The MX project had been proposed by Jimmy Carter, but after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 its status was unclear. Throughout 1981 Air Force planners moved forward with preliminary work on the project, making several major changes in the initial plans. However, Reagan never fully embraced the MX project and favored his own Strategic Defense Initiative, which would be based in space, not in the isolated valleys of Utah and Nevada. By the end of 1981 there was little hope or concern that MX would ever become a reality.