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Thursday, April 01, 2021

Proposed industrial rocket launch site at Granot Loma threatens pristine Lake Superior shoreline

This photo shows an overview of the proposed Granot Loma/Thoney Point launch site on Lake Superior in Marquette County as seen from the overlook on bareback mountain at Harlow Lake. (Photos courtesy Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior board members)

By Dennis Ferraro*

Most of us coming to Lake Superior’s beautiful southern shoreline to live, to study, or to visit feel a deep connection to its wild and pristine coastal habitat. Whether hiking trails, hunting, skiing, fishing, kayaking, or just wandering the beautiful coastline from Pictured Rocks to the Porcupines, we feel this connection to nature that recreates our bodies, refreshes our minds, and replenishes our spirits.

One particularly beautiful stretch of coastline -- pictured above as an overview and shown below as a water view -- is the Thoney Point promontory at an area known as Granot Loma, just 10 miles north of Marquette. Unfortunately, a Detroit lobbyist, the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA), now wants to create a heavy industrial zone at Granot Loma for launching purely commercial rockets into space.

Here is a view from the proposed rocket launch site seen from the water about 2 miles south on the Hiawatha Water Trail.

As bait, early in 2019, MAMA publicly promised hundreds, if not thousands, of local jobs at a proposed horizontal launch site at the industrially developed KI Sawyer Airport; but then secretly, behind closed doors, made the switch to a vertical launch site, for a mere handful of jobs, on the pristine and ecologically sensitive Lake Superior coastline at Granot Loma.**

Now that Oscoda-Wurtsmith airport has been chosen for the horizontal launch site, and Chippewa County chosen for the "spaceport" command and control center, instead of gaining many jobs, Marquette County will end up with only a handful. For example, the Kodiak Alaska Aerospace site, when launching rockets like those proposed for Granot Loma, only employs five people.

Moreover, instead of a spaceport located at an already industrially developed site, this switch to the pristine and ecologically sensitive lakeshore at Granot Loma will create an extremely intense industrial use zone:

  • which will be built on fragile wetlands within hundreds of feet of the lakeshore;
  • where risk of explosion at launch will require evacuation of at least six nearby family residences;
  • where, after even successful launches, rocket parts will fall to the lake and ground, causing both hazard and pollution below;
  • where lightning and water towers will pollute the view;
  • where extensive clear cutting will strip plant and animal habitat;
  • where a deluge shock suppression system will draw tons of water from groundwater tables and/or the already eroding lakeshore;
  • where each launch blast will be seen and heard for miles around, just like the Wallops Island VA launch site, where The Washington Post notes that flights of rockets, like those planned for Granot Loma, "are visible up and down the Atlantic Coast."

This water view is within a mile of the proposed launch site.

This is a bad bargain, one that will degrade the quality of life which draws people here. Lake Superior’s coastline is not any one private or public landowner’s front or backyard. It is truly our collective lakeshore, a resource we must protect and sustain, regardless of municipal, township or neighborhood borders.

Just consider Granot Loma’s proximity to coastal areas which enhance the quality of life for all our citizens. For example, the proposed launch site would be located as follows:

These venues for outdoor recreation connect people with nature, recreate and refresh us, and promote sustainable economic growth in the UP.

Marquette already ranks as one of the the top 25 places for millennial job seekers because of the excellent quality of life provided by our beautiful UP wilderness and our pristine southern Lake Superior shoreline.

This Lake Superior shoreline view shows the pretty sandstone cliffs at the proposed Granot Loma/Thoney Point launch area.

Best Value Schools lists Northern Michigan University among the "Top 50 Outdoor Colleges" because our students "are surrounded by nature…close to Lake Superior, Marquette Mountain and other beautiful locations."

Reader’s Digest praises Marquette as up-and-coming for its quality of life created by its wilderness features and waterfront.

People come here for the beauty and connection with our still wild natural environment and the quality of life it offers. They do not come seeking an industrial hub. Creating an intense industrial zone for rocket launches, and the slippery slope into further erosive industrialization of Lake Superior’s shore, will not promote further sustainable growth. It will irreparably harm it.

This photo shows the rare black granite outcroppings at the proposed launch area.

There is simply no compelling need to locate a purely commercial, industrial launch site next to the largest surface area of freshwater on earth. Many thoroughly developed commercial rocket sites already exist elsewhere, like Kennedy Space Center’s  LC-48 complex which can launch 52 per year, Kodiak Island, or the new Wallops Island, VA, spaceport, referenced above. Rocket Lab, whose rocket is touted by MAMA, has only launched 20 rockets (2 failures) from its base in New Zealand, despite obtaining a license in 2016 allowing a launch every 72 hours for 30 years.

Spreading misinformation, and withholding facts, MAMA counts on the silence and inaction of the public, while solidifying its plans behind the scenes.

But a well organized public and vocal opposition can fight back now to influence local decision makers; and, in any future Federal Aviation Administration permitting process, it will be crucial that a large citizen coalition be already prepared to participate in public comment and hearings to argue cogently and forcefully to defeat the launch plan.

So please join us now, at citizensforasafeandcleanlakesuperior.com, or at our more easily remembered handle, everybodysbackyard.com. Protect our lakeshore!***

* Guest author Dennis Ferraro is President of Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior.

** Click here to read "The Bait and Switch Behind the Granot Loma Launch Plan."

*** Dennis Ferraro's recent presentation, "Save Our Shoreline: Everybody's Backyard!" is now posted on the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition's (UPEC's) You Tube channel HERE.

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