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Far too many unanswered questions on launch project

John Frick

I, like many Marquette County residents, have been following the development of the proposed rocket launch site north of the city of Marquette on what is commonly referred to as Loma Farms property.

As with most new developments, people have gravitated to both sides of the argument.

Some applaud the new jobs this site may generate, seem to welcome the partnership this project may enter into with local and regional schools, colleges, and universities, and, in their words, look forward to the “cool” spectacle of a rocket arching over Lake Superior on its way to low earth orbit.

Others express their worry that pristine natural forests (or at least hundreds of acres of forest) will be laid waste as concrete is poured, antennae masts erected, control and storage buildings finished, and new roads wind from Marquette County Road 550 to the launch site sitting on the shores of Lake Superior.

Many focus on the very real possibility that accidents will happen and that Lake Superior will be contaminated with rocket fuel as leaks occur.

What seems to be missing is a real focus on the human element related to this project. Specifically, the creation of a security zone and the evacuation of residents as well as the impact this project will have related to the promised jobs.

While no one has mentioned the possibility of invoking eminent domain (the taking of property, with compensation for public use) when considering the Michigan Launch Initiative (MLI), one should be concerned after reading the Sawyer International Airport MLI Application Business Case (final report) dated September 18, 2019. Page 11 of this report states: “… the launch site must have…a protection area of a radius to be defined by the type of launch vehicle but no less than one kilometer in radius. The protection area is required in the event of a catastrophic accident/incident…Examples of such catastrophic incidents include a blow up of the LV (launch vehicle) at lift off or blows up during the first seconds of flight.”

Furthermore, page 19 of this same report notes that “A one kilometer radius protection area can be obtained but would require the evacuation of 5 or 6 houses located southeast of the pad…” The report also states that the Granot Loma lodge would have to be evacuated for launches that involve a due north trajectory.

Imagine living in one of these houses, a house you worked your entire life to own. You’d have to evacuate your home perhaps of twice per month as the rocket(s) are readied, fueled, and launched. Picture the security detachment, also noted in the report, showing up at your front door, perhaps late in the evening, and telling you that you and your family have to leave. Hardly a scene of peace and tranquility many of us value while living in the Upper Peninsula.

Mr. Gavin Brown, Executive Director of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturer’s Association has stated in a recent interview that people would not have to be evacuated during launches. This shows either a huge disconnect between Mr. Brown and the realities presented in the report authored by Explorer Solutions, or worse, a disingenuous attitude on the part of Mr. Brown.

I would also encourage people to consider that will happen if the rocket launch site is developed, used for a number of years, and is then abandoned. Long-time residents will remember when K.I. Sawyer was an active Air Force military base.

At its peak, K.I. Sawyer provided 12,000 jobs and generated annual spending approaching $157 million. When the based closed in 1995, 5,000 jobs disappeared and an estimated 14,000 people left the area. Sawyer has struggled ever since to rebound. It is my fear that the rocket launch site, if built, will suffer the same fate as rocket technology changes. I imagine that rocket launch sites do not “repurpose” well.

Given the challenges presented by both sides of this debate, are we ready to embrace a project that may or may not provide new jobs in the Marquette area and may or may not permanently endanger the natural habitat we all profess to value, but will certainly inconvenience long-time residents near the launch site and mean the loss of jobs down the road?

Please ask yourself this question as you consider your position regarding the proposed launch site.

Finally, remember what brought you to or kept you here. If you’re like me, it’s the unspoiled (for the most part) wilderness. The changing lakeshore. The quiet woods. Let’s all enjoy the natural beauty of our area, and guard it for generations to come.

Editor’s note: John Frick is a resident of Marquette County.

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