By Estella Fullmer Brown
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Space Florida is moving into the next phase of its plan to build a commercial spaceport along the coast at the Volusia and Brevard County line, just north of Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center.
The latest step is to collect comments from the public as the first part of the Environmental Impact Statement for the Shiloh Launch Complex (the name of the future commercial spaceport if approved).
On Feb. 11 and 12, there were public meetings at New Smyrna Beach High School to explain the process for the EIS and give people the chance to voice their concerns directly to the EIS panel. More than 100 people showed up to find out more about the plans for the spaceport and its impact on the environment and to express their opinions either for or against the proposed facility.
Mike Legare, Wildlife Biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, "We are not for or against the proposal. We are here to provide the public with information on what and where the natural resources are concerning the cultural, public and wildlife use of the land in the proposed area."
The USFWS is not prepared at this time to declare what impact the facility might have on the environment. "That's what the Environmental Impact Study is for," Mr. Legare said. "Later in the EIS process we will determine the impact on those resources."
Space Florida proposes to establish a non-federal launch site that is state controlled and managed as opposed to the federally controlled Kennedy Space Center. The goal is to provide launch site options for commercial and private companies while still adhering to the strict federal regulations and safety protocols. Facilities would be constructed as a partnership between Space Florida and commercial operators, which would blend public funding with private capital.
The proposal to the Federal Aviation Administration estimated an average of 24 launches per year from the main facility and from two proposed satellite facilities, one of which would be just south of Oak Hill. The duration for the proposed construction, if approved, is expected to be around 24 months on all three sites. It will involve roadway and utility improvements to service the facilities.
The vehicles to be launched include liquid fueled, medium to heavy-lift class orbital and suborbital vertical launch vehicles. Operations would also include up to 24 static fire engine tests or wet dress rehearsals per year. All vehicles would launch over the Atlantic Ocean, according to documents submitted by Space Florida to the FAA.
In order to build the proposed complex, Space Florida must be granted permits from the FAA. Stacy Zee of the Environmental Protection Agency and Pam Underwood of the FAA explained the types of permits that could be granted.
Ms. Underwood urged residents of both counties to provide the EPA with their concerns and assured them each comment would carry equal weight, whether it was stated in person at the meeting, or by the written comment sheets provided at the meeting or via email to email@example.com or via mail addressed to Stacey M. Zee, Environmental Protection Specialist, Federal Aviation Administration, Shiloh Launch Complex EIS, c/o Cardno TEC Inc. 2469 Old Ivy Road, Suite 300, Charlottesville, VA 22903.
The Public Scoping Comment Form can be found on the FAA's web page. All comments must be turned in no later than Feb. 21 to be considered for the Draft EIS.
Once the first stage of the EIS process is complete and the panel has 45 days to review all the public comments and reports of any studies conducted during that time. Then it will prepare a Draft EIS. The public will then have a chance to provide comments on the draft EIS.
According to Ms. Underwood Space Florida will also have to meet all FAA safety requirements to receive an FAA license.
NASA also will have to give approval before any construction can begin because the proposed facility will be on land it owns. Trey Carlson and Donald Dankert of NASA said the agency will not issue a decision until the EIS is complete. "We will be making our decision [to lease the land to Space Florida] based on the Environmental Study," Mr. Dankert said.
Dozens of people approached the microphone in the meeting to have their comments recorded by the panel's stenographer and address the FAA and EPA panel representatives.
Rick Karl, Director of Aviation and Economic Resources at the Daytona Beach Airport was the first speaker and reminded everyone the Volusia County Council and several of the local city councils have already formally declared support for the Shiloh Space Complex.
Among those that support the spaceport was George Cheros, Chief Operating Director of the National Modeling and Simulation Association of Orlando. "This complex is the key to diversify Florida's overall economy," he said. He cited the jobs that it would create and the influx of people moving to the area to fill those jobs as well as the people that would visit to see the spaceport or use it years in the future when commercial flights will be commonplace.
"This facility will have a positive impact on our students," said Dr. Makola Abdulah, Provost of Bethune-Cookman University. "It will increase opportunities for graduates of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and create opportunities for higher level careers that will increase the quality of life for our young people."
Ted Forrester of the Fishing and Anglers Club opposes the use of Merrit Island refuge land for the commercial launch area. "Numerous closings and obstructions to boaters will be imposed whenever there is a launch or a test," he said. "Currently NASA closes off a 5 mile radius around the Kennedy Space Center whenever they schedule a launch, for safety purposes," he explained. He wants to know if there will be similar closings of the waterways around the three facilities that are being proposed. "The most obvious place to put this facility is farther south where they already are," he said, referring to the Kennedy Space Center. Several members of the crowd stood up and cheered this statement.
Joshua Daniels and his eight-year-old son Israel strongly support the Shiloh Space Complex, which will be named after the area in which it will be built if approved. Young Israel addressed the crowd, "Please support the Shiloh Launch Complex so I can be an astronaut when I grow up." His father, Mr. Daniels, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said he teaches his students the importance of today's young people to stay on top of changing technology and the space industry in order to compete in the world market when they grow up.
But Bob Sheppert asked the panel, "What happens to the environment if there is one of those catastrophic failures and liquid fuel is leaked into the river?" He expressed concerns that accidents, though fewer now, do happen and he asked the FAA to consider the impact on an eco-system that has species of birds and fish that are not found anywhere else in the world. He urged the FAA to analyze the overpressure issue on liquid fuel rockets before they reach a decision.
Scott Greene is also opposed to the location of the site, "I am in favor of a commercial spaceport, but it doesn't make sense to do it here," he said. "Why not build it farther south where the facilities already exist." He said the potential destruction and pollution by fuel in the lagoon would be an economic and socio disaster. "If it happens, there won't be jobs for those that depend on the river now for their livelihood. The river will be dead and the natural resources lost."