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January 29, 2014

CCA Florida Opposes Placement of Space Launch Facility in Wild Refuge Area

CCA Florida opposes the use of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Mosquito Lagoon area for private, commercial space launch site.

The area encompassing Mosquito Lagoon, the northern reaches of the Indian River Lagoon, the Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge are some of the most pristine lands and waters left along Florida's east coast. The area is also essential habitat for many birds and aquatic animals, some of which are endangered or federally protected. A large number of anglers, hunters, bird watchers, manatee watchers, paddlers and other wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts consider the area a prime destination for their avocations. According to CCA Florida, the economic benefit from those enthusiasts to the State of Florida and those who live in the vicinity is immense, which is to say nothing of the recreational benefits conferred upon those enthusiasts by experiencing the area in what is largely its natural condition.

The Mosquito Lagoon is one of Florida's premier saltwater fishing areas. Anglers from all over the world come to fish for huge redfish in the clear shallow waters of the Lagoon. The refuge has issued permits for 71 fishing guides in the Refuge.

CCA Florida states that the Florida Kennedy Space Center (KSC) sits nearby and the fate of much of its facilities is unknown. Recently, several capable launch facilities have been used. In fact, one was used by a potential beneficiary of the proposed Shiloh site, Space X, which recently launched a rocket and spacecraft from KSC. NASA began exploring ways to increase future commercial use of the Shuttle Landing Facility at KSC well before the end of the Shuttle Program. Unfortunately, this is not the first time this area has been proposed for a new launch site. In 2008, NASA itself proposed 2 alternative new launch sites very near Shiloh. At the time, Coastal Conservation Association of Florida and other groups protested loudly, imploring NASA to find a way to use the facilities at KSC rather than impose the enormously adverse environmental impacts a new launch facility would have created. That proposal by NASA did not proceed, nor should this one.

All of the proposed sites are in the same area - Shiloh. CCA Florida says the most obvious alternative locations, the unused sites in the Kennedy Space Center and the Canaveral Air Force Base in Brevard County, are not even included! At previous hearings Space Florida assured many speakers that the environmental analysis would include a number of different options including the idle sites in Brevard County. However, throughout the process Space Florida has remained tightly focused on the Shiloh area in the Merritt Island NWR.

The development of the Shiloh site seems questionable in light of the tremendous impact the proposed launch complex would have - construction and post-development traffic and their attendant noise, smoke and heat from the launches, and storm water runoff, among them. What of access by the public to nearby lands and waters, including the Mosquito Lagoon and the Intracoastal Waterway? This heavily travelled waterway would be closed before, during and after launches. The Federal Register Notice states that Space Florida "proposes to construct and operate a commercial space launch site (The Shiloh Launch Complex) and two offsite operations support areas. The Shiloh Launch Complex would include two vertical launch facilities that could accommodate up to 24 launches per year, as well as up to 24 static fire engine tests or wet dress rehearsals per year. The launch vehicles would include liquid fueled, medium to heavy-lift class orbital and suborbital vehicles. In addition to the 24 launches per year, the first stage of the launch vehicle could return to and land at the Shiloh Launch Complex."

Supporters of the plan argue that the Governor is being strong in his push for jobs and economic benefits for Florida. However, opponents point out that the jobs and economic benefits of placing the launch facilities in Shiloh can be achieved by placing the project in Brevard County at Kennedy Space Center or at the Canaveral AFB. 

The public hearings will be held at New Smyrna Beach High School at 5 pm February 11 and at the Eastern Florida State College Titusville campus at 5 pm February 12.

If you wish to email comments, they must be received by February 21. Send them to Stacy M. Zee, FAA Environmental Specialist - faashiloheis@cardnote.com 

CCA Florida also recommends to copy to U.S. Senators Bill Nelson at and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Congressional Representatives, there addresses can be found here and here.