Questions remain in spaceport proposal

Jeanne Baumann of the Powell Township Spaceport Research Group on Tuesday provides an update to the Powell Township Board on the proposed spaceport that would be located in the township. The volunteer group has been studying the controversial issue. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

BIG BAY — Many questions still surround the proposed spaceport, a vertical-launch facility that would be built on Granot Loma in Powell Township.

The Powell Township Board on Tuesday heard an update on the issue from Jeanne Baumann, who represented the volunteer Powell Township Spaceport Research Group.

The group’s task is to gather information about the spaceport proposal in the context of what it means for the township, Baumann said.

“We don’t take a stance,” Baumann said. “We are not necessarily pro or con. We want everybody in the township to know what’s going on and to participate along with our elected and appointed people to make good decisions for us, because we’re the ones living here.”

The plan for the facility, part of the Michigan Launch Initiative, was announced in 2020. The plan comes from the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association. The Powell Township site, if built, would be part of a spaceport that would include a horizontal-launch site at the downstate Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport, with operations for both sites supported by a command-and-control center in Chippewa County.

Granot Loma is privately owned.

Baumann said the group has four focus areas: launch day impact, jobs/economic impact, zoning/local government and the environment.

MAMA, she noted, has posted feasibility studies related to the project on its website at www.michman.org.

“One thing that we did learn that’s very different from the other public announcements that have been given to the people in Marquette is they are planning on multiple launch pads,” Baumann said. “Not one little launch pad. They want multiple launch pads. They want to buy almost 2,800 acres of Granot Loma. They want to service multiple launch companies with what they call barebones launch pads.”

Each of those launch pads, she said, will have four lightning towers that are 150 feet tall, roads, water-deluge systems and fuel supplies.

Baumann stressed that many questions have yet to be answered.

“We don’t know where they will place launch pads in that 2,800 acres, so how it’s going to impact our roads, how it’s going to impact our residents with the safety zone that’s required — we don’t have answers to any of those questions,” she said.

In the Powell Township Spaceport Research Group’s report issued on Tuesday, it indicated that the Granot Loma site totaled 2,892 acres, and provided a map of the proposed vertical launch site that included portions of County Road 550 and Eagles Nest Road.

Baumann mentioned a study, commissioned by MAMA and completed by the Ann Arbor-based IQM Research Institute, which was not released to the public. The study indicated spaceports are over-supplied in the United States, and of the 11 spaceports that can handle vertical launches, only four have actually completed such a launch. The study also found that it takes a lot of money to build high-investment, low-return facilities, she said.

“None of the public-private spacesports have ever made any money, and unless they are getting government funds, they are losing money for the investors,” Baumann said.

When making the initial public announcement in 2020 of the spaceport coming to the region, MAMA CEO Gavin Brown said, “The footprint itself will utilize as little of the terrain as possible to achieve the maximum result. So when people talk about the spaceport, and vertical, you are not going to see the big build-out.

“You’re going to see new technology that basically does not leave the carbon footprint of the old days. Not only are we going to be leaders, but we are going to be stewards. We are going to be stewards of the air and land and water. As we should.”

The Mining Journal reached out to MAMA for comment on recent developments but had not heard from the organization as of press time.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation handles spaceport operators’ licensing. However, as it now stands, the project’s fate lies with the Powell Township government. Baumann said a lawyer specializing in environmental issues, land management and regulations pointed out that the township has an industrial district, but it will not permit the kinds of activities that would happen at a spaceport.

For the spaceport to proceed, it would require amending the zoning ordinance and holding public hearings, she said.

Baumann said the timeline for the spaceport is unknown.

“It’s complicated,” she said. “It involves the FAA. It involves the environmental impact statement, which will need to be done, and there’s no way of knowing when this is going to happen.”

Residents have expressed concerns over possible environmental consequences and noise.

“The rocket they plan to handle is 100 feet tall,” Baumann said. “It weighs 120,000 pounds, 90 percent of which is the fuel on board when it’s launched. It’ll be surrounded by these higher towers. So, these are not small things.”

For example, Powell Township Supervisor Darlene Turner said at the Tuesday board meeting that the township received 11 letters regarding the spaceport, with all against it.

Turner said township officials had not heard from Brown within the past year.

“It’s a really big challenge for Powell Township, and we don’t know how to turn,” she said. “We haven’t any contact with MAMA except for one phone call. I talked with Gavin Brown one time over a year.”

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.


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