The future of the MUOS (an acronym for Mobile User Objective System) slated for the Niscemi military facility in Sicily remains deadlocked. The US satellite communications station under construction by US and NATO Allies in the Sughereto nature reserve near Niscemi remains yet to open for operations because the Supreme Court in Rome rejected the appeal of the Italian State’s attorney on behalf of the Ministry of Defense.
This decision left the April 1, 2015 order of the Caltigirone (Catania) magistrate still standing and thereby blocking any further constructionwork on the telecommunications station. The Supreme Court also ordered the Ministry of Defense to pay the court costs.
The proposed MUOS technology would significantly improve communications capabilities for the US Armed Forces and NATO Allies. The system requires four satellites and four ground facilities slated for Australia, Virginia, Hawaii and Sicily. The planned station for Sicily has always been controversial with some of the local population in the Niscemi area.
The proposed project has had a very difficult journey. The satellite paths have long been disputed by concerned local citizens as having possible harmful effects from antenna emissions. In October of 2012 the Caltigirone prosecutor of Niscemi found the communications stations in violations of existing regulations protecting the Sughereta nature reserve. Later the same month the decision was annulled by a higher court in Catania, and work on the station resumed.
In early 2013, the MUOS debate became more politicized when Rosario Crocetta, the then new president of the Sicilian Region, advanced the idea of suspension of the installation of the satellite dishes.
On March 11 of that year the Region reached an agreement with the Chigi Palace to ask the US and Allies not to proceed with satellite installation until completion of environmental and health studies on the effects the devices operating at maximum power would have on local populations.On 29 March 2013, the Sicilian Region officially withdrew authorization for the construction of the MUOS station at Niscemi.
April 20, 2013, the Ministry of Defense appealed the decision and requested the Region pay damages. On 9 July 2013, Palermo rejected the request for suspension of the decision of the Region who had stopped work. July 25, 2013, the Sicilian Region reinstated the MUOS station.
In late January of 2014, the antennas were positioned on their supports, in line with the lead times announced in June 2013 and January 20, 2015 the third of satellites for the initial operation was launched into orbit
On 13 February 2015, the TAR (the administrative court of Sicily) quashed the decision made by the Sicilian Region and imposed yet another stop to the work. In its judgment, the Regional Administrative Court welcomed the appeals of both the “No MUOS” Committee and the Municipality of Niscemi, on the grounds that the analysis made by the Higher Institute of Health, ISPRA and by ENAV did not provide sufficient evidence to exclude possible negative effects on public health and air traffic. Could this action be the final stop in the drawn out and circuitous history of the MUOS?