Environmental Activists Seek to Block Florida Space Launch Facility

Published April 7, 2014

Environmental activists are attempting to block construction of a space launch facility in Florida, claiming the proposed site should be preserved for scrub jays and other species.

200 Acres Near Kennedy Center
The State of Florida proposes to build and operate a space launch facility on land adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center near New Smyrna Beach. The facility would be built on 200 acres of land in the 140,000-acre Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Since the shutdown of NASA’s space shuttle program in 2011, the aerospace industry has been hit with the loss of approximately 8,000 NASA and civilian jobs nationally. Proponents say the proposed spaceport will boost the space industry in Florida and mitigate the economic damage.

Space Florida, a State of Florida economic development agency, is spearheading plans to build the facility, known as the Shiloh Launch Complex.

Florida is a great example of how nature and space can coexist in harmony, says Tina Lange, spokesperson for Space Florida.

“Space Florida is committed to working with those who wish to commit to maintaining that legacy into the 21st Century,” she said.

Environmental Activist Objections
Merritt Island and other surrounding wildlife areas draw in anglers, hunters, bird watchers, manatee watchers, paddlers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. The Coastal Conservation Association and several other environmental activist groups strongly oppose the development of Shiloh Launch Complex.

“All of the proposed sites are in the same area—Shiloh. 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!” CCA wrote in a press release.

Land Set Aside for Space Program
Lange, however, explained the land has always been intended for space launch purposes.

“The land in question is not owned by the Fish & Wildlife Service, but is held by NASA, having been taken by the federal government in the 1960s for the nation’s space program,” said Lange. “The FWS manages that part of the 140,000 acres of Kennedy Space Center that is not presently developed, but the land remains subject to withdrawal from the refuge at any time. That makes this particular refuge unique in the country.”

Space Florida Supports Review
Shiloh is still in its beginning stages of planning, with only two public hearings held so far. State officials will perform ongoing evaluations and draft an environmental impact statement (EIS). The draft statement will be followed by at least two more public hearings before the project can move forward.

Lange said Space Florida supports the environmental evaluation process.

“This is appropriate, as it will present the public and elected officials with the necessary information upon which to make decisions,” Lange said.

Recreational Impediments
Environmental activist groups claim space launches would require government officials to block off areas of the refuge during the launches. They also say the launches might pollute the refuge.

“The specifics of the recreational impacts are exactly what the EIS will determine,” said Lange. “Space Florida believes the final impacts will be minimal and far less than what some of those in opposition have been portraying publicly. However, the benefit of the EIS is that the public doesn’t need to believe Space Florida or the opposition. The EIS will provide that information around which final decisions can be made.”

Restoring Florida’s Leadership
Before 1980, all of the free world’s commercial satellites launched from Florida, Lange explained. However, commercial space launches are now dependent on other nations and the U.S. share of the market has plummeted to zero.

Shiloh proponents who want to see Florida return to competitiveness in the aerospace industry note spaceports are being considered in Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and other states. U.S. space launches have always been synonymous with Florida, but that is quickly changing. 

“Launch is not a Florida birthright, and if we are going to maintain our heritage we must adapt to the marketplace. We can do that at Shiloh. This community’s self-image is as the home of space launch, and we will not surrender that without a fight,” Lange said.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.