Community disconcerted over potential impacts of Granot Loma spaceport

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Sam Rush/NW

Peter Smedley

The U.P is often regarded as one of the few places untouched by industry in America. Home to many outdoor recreation experiences, an economy that thrives off of the environment and a school with a surplus of environmentally aware programs, concerns have risen with a proposal from the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturer’s Association to build a vertical launch site at Granot Loma. 

The NorthWind published an article in August of 2020 discussing the perspectives of those in support of the spaceport and those against it. Information regarding the move to Granot Loma over KI Sawyer was released in July of 2020. Following this announcement, a change.org petition created by Senior Nursing major, Lauren Blosser, in protest of the site, gained traction. 

“I am concerned for the surrounding area, humans and the natural surroundings included. I am concerned about the impact this spaceport will have on this environment,” Blosser said. “I am also concerned about the impact this will have on the surrounding property owners.” 

Several community members who were concerned about the Granot Loma vertical launch site sent letters to the Powell township commission in October of 2020. These letters stressed similar concerns of environmental impact. One letter, sent by Jill and Richard Storm, spoke of the impacts of tourism and focus on the economic gain in the community, pointing to developing campgrounds and the effects overuse has had on trails such as Sugarloaf. 

With plans to develop a vertical launch site in Granot Loma on a Wetlands area, known to be a fragile ecosystem, there is reason for concern from the community. Gavin Brown, Executive Director of MAMA, addresses these concerns.

“We have already heard from a number of residents concerned about the potential environmental impact on your beautiful community. We are committed to developing a plan that reflects our commitment to the environment,” Brown said.

MAMA does not currently have a local commercial partner but is working on a feasibility study, intended to be completed at the end of August. Environmental studies would not begin until the final quarter of 2021, during the pre-application process for Federal Aviation Administration licensing, Brown said.

Dennis Ferraro, president of the Citizens for a Safe & Clean Lake Superior, is among the concerned citizens in protest of the site at Granot Loma. The organization has been increasingly active in the past months in order to raise awareness.

“You gotta ask yourself, why do people choose to live here? Why do people come here? Why? It’s because of our connection with nature. It’s because of our connection with our planet here—the wildness we still have here,” Ferraro said. 

The designated launch site is very near to multiple recreational locations used by the community and tourists. A zoning map from October of 2019 depicts the area proposed. Little Garlic River runs through the southern portion of the property, and Big Garlic River, Wilson Creek and Birch Creek run through the North West, according to the Marquette county RFI response addendum. This information was unavailable until February of 2021, unless a request for information was made.

“It’s within three miles of echo lake and within 4 miles of the overlook of Harlow lake. All of these areas where people come to refresh themselves, connect with nature and so forth, this is now gonna be turned into an industrial zone,” Ferraro said.

There are plans to include the community during the pre-application process for the FAA licensing. These include an electronic survey, public listening and input sessions and connecting with local economic development experts, Brown said. 

Many have been concerned about the purpose of the spaceport at Granot Loma. Blosser feels that many community members have been left in the dark about what has been happening. Ferraro and other community members have also been concerned about the lack of information from MAMA. 

Ferraro believes MAMA has been deceitful with how they have handled information and has ignored community concerns, as well as switched locations of the spaceport without consensus from the community. Brown denies that the organization did not accurately convey information.

“At no time was there any switch of locations, so the claims made by the Citizens website are puzzling at best and simply inaccurate,” Brown said. 

 The launch site is projected to create 1,200 jobs. When asked for clarification on who these jobs were for, Brown stated they were for the community. Blosser is concerned about these jobs.

“I am concerned MAMA is viewing this area as just another place they can capitalize on. I am also concerned about the jobs they are saying they will be bringing to the area. Many of these jobs will be temporary and we now know the command center will not even be in Marquette,” Blosser said.

 As to why Granot Loma was chosen for the vertical launch site, several areas were proposed, including Alpena county, Chippewa county, Otsego county as well as others. 

“Marquette was selected for the vertical launch site based on the following criteria [from our release]: ‘Sites were ranked based on several factors, including existing commercial and public infrastructure, geographic and terrestrial mapping, living standards and workforce development,’” Brown said.

The project will come to a head when the FAA licensing process begins. With community members inputting their voice, Ferraro believes that MAMA could be denied.

“One thing that we are trying to do is raise public consciousness and alert people to this because once the federal aviation administration and permitting process starts, then there will be established public comment periods. We want to be organized now so that when that happens we’ll be able to flood the FAA and flood the Michigan Department of Environmental Great Lakes, with public comments against this,” Ferraro said.

Citizens for a Safe and Clean Superior is planning to set up outdoor events in order to raise awareness and get community members involved. Student involvement for the spaceport has been nonexistent, however, Brown said there are plans during the pre-application process for the FAA licensing to reach NMU and Michigan Tech for potential collaboration. Citizens for a Safe and Clean Superior also have plans to involve students and raise awareness.

Many students who are environmentally conscious, as well as student organizations like Ecoreps and the Conservation Crew, could find the potential impact disastrous. However, working with a launch site does present learning potential for those in scientific majors and organizations.

“I am not a property owner at Granot Loma so it will not affect me personally, but that does not mean that I can’t fight for that environment. That being said, in the long run, the possible damage it could cause to the lake and the surrounding woods would affect me personally as a native Yooper and avid hiker,” Blosser said.

Although Blosser cares for the local environment and is against the spaceport, she stresses the importance of coming to one’s own conclusions.

“I think NMU students should also do their own research on this issue so they can truly make an informed decision. I don’t think anyone should blindly take a side from one article,” Blosser said. More information about MAMA can be found on their website. Visit Citizens for a Safe & Clean Lake Superior for more information on environmental concerns.