Concerns expressed over proposed commercial launch pads

By Justin Warmoth - Anchor

TITUSVILLE, Fla. - Hundreds of people gathered at Eastern Florida State College's Titusville Campus Wednesday to share their opinions about commercial launch pads the state has proposed building at the northern edge of the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge.

Dick Loeher spent Wednesday morning with friends kayaking the canals of the refuge. On the three-hour-trip he said the group saw dolphins, manatees and other protected wildlife that call the refuge home, but he fears that could go away if a proposed spaceport takes up more than 200 acres of the protected habitat.

"I don't want my enjoyment of the wildlife refuge destroyed by having part of it used for commercial use," said Loeher, a long-time Titusville resident.

Space Florida is the state's spaceport authority. They've proposed building one or two launch pads near the Brevard-Volusia county border in an area called Shiloh.

"Basically we spent a year evaluating locations throughout the state where the state could provide the capability to the commercial launch market that is equal to what they're going to be provided in Texas, Georgia and elsewhere so we can remain competitive," said Dale Ketchem, Space Florida's chief of strategic alliances.

Ketcham said the launch complex, which would have 12-24 launches a year, would be governed by the Federal Aviation Administration and is intended to operate independently from NASA and the U.S. Air Force.

Space Florida understands the environmental concerns folks have about the spaceport, but the 140,000-acre wildlife refuge is NASA's property and was purchased with the intent to be the location for the nation's space program.

"The environmental concerns are extremely important, they're cherished," Ketcham said. "We have no intentions of removing them, but they're secondary to the purpose for which the land was taken to begin with."

Wednesday's meeting is intended to explain the environmental review process and accept public input.

No decisions will be made until the study is completed more than a year from now.

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