‘Too early to judge’: Officials ask for patience regarding spaceport
MARQUETTE — Many people in Marquette County have expressed excitement that a proposed Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association vertical spaceport could be coming to Powell Township, but not everyone shares that sentiment.
A change.org petition opposing the spaceport, which would be located on the privately owned Granot Loma property on the shores of Lake Superior, has seen nearly 17,000 responses since it launched on July 27. Many of the signatures did not originate locally, coming from as far away as Oregon, Washington, Alaska and California.
Lauren Blosser, who started the petition titled “Say no to rocket launch site,” lists concerns about polluting the “clean, fresh waters of Lake Superior,” and “destroying acres of land, that, contrary to popular belief, do have people living there.”
Powell Township resident Melinda Kantola commented that she signed the petition in part due to “many questions” about the project, including “extreme noise pollution and explosions, light pollution and excessive development in an area designated for residential homes, recreation access, shoreline protection and timber management.
“There are many private property owners here of all income brackets,” Kantola’s post states. “It’s rural, but not uninhabited and cherished for its beautiful, local public recreation areas … I feel that the democratic process has been sidestepped and again corporate profits are viewed as more valuable than the people, the lake and the land.”
Marquette County was chosen for the vertical launch site alongside downstate Oscoda, which will be home to a proposed horizontal launch site. The locations were chosen due to existing commercial and public infrastructure, geographic and terrestrial mapping, living standards and workforce development. As part of the plan, an autonomous vehicle proving grounds would be located in Chippewa County.
Lake Superior Community Partnership CEO Amy Clickner said she expects community engagement to be an ongoing part of the process, similar to preparations such as a community advisory committee that led to the Eagle Mine project.
“I am disappointed that some have made the decision to oppose before the project is fully shaped. The announcement of location selection is step one of thousands, and certainly just the beginning of a development process that will take years,” Clickner said. “I always like to remind folks that economic development is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, said she understands that the site selection announcement may have “left residents with a lot of questions.”
“If MAMA is successful with permitting at the local, state and national level that could take up to five years to determine,” Cambensy said in a statement last week. “There is no doubt that putting a launch site in a place where currently there are forests will be a change. These details, and many of the other details that residents are worrying about, are still being determined.
“Like all other complex capital-intensive projects, the permitting process will decide much of these details and whether this project is possible. As we go through the anticipated five-year permitting process, and as Michigan competes with other launch sites nationally, I ask that residents be patient before making assumptions about what this project is.”
Cambensy said she is still getting updates on the project.
“What I do know is MAMA plans to do several public forums in the coming months and will form a community action group to help explain the project in greater detail, also serving as a sounding board for questions, concerns and suggestions,” Cambensy said. “There are many things we don’t know yet about the project, but I believe there is so much more to lose if we allow our fear to predetermine what the project will be. Our patience and willingness to come to the table and give the project a fair shake in the coming months and years before dismissing it are needed.”
MAMA has been moving forward toward licensure from the Federal Aviation Administration, which would have to be obtained in addition to other administrative steps that need to be completed prior to development of the site.
Marquette County Administrator Scott Erbisch said the Marquette County Board of Commissioners is “very cognizant” of the environmental impact new developments can have.
“As a county, we want to have sustainable quality jobs for the community, but not at the cost of the environment,” Erbisch said. “The regulatory bodies (such as the FAA) will be looking at those items of concern brought forward by the public.”
Clickner echoed Cambensy’s calls for public patience with the project, which officials say could ultimately generate demand for as many as 40,000 new jobs statewide and “a space development ecosystem” by the time spaceport operations begin in early 2025.
“I believe it is too early to judge the project and it is my hope that the community will engage in the process, learn the facts and be a part of us successfully and safely bringing much-needed jobs and investment to the U.P.,” Clickner said.
A second petition in support of the proposed spaceport launched Friday on the change.org site and had garnered upwards of 1,500 responses by press time Monday evening.