Mark Greby wrinkled his face and smiled as he checked bullet holes.
“You could see how bad of a shot these people are,” he said.
Greby didn’t seem upset after seeing the green aluminum highway sign that points to the Kodiak Launch Complex operated by his company. Rifle, shotgun and pistol rounds peppered the sign with holes.
“That seems to be a very American thing to do — shoot at the signs,” he said. “We take no offense that people would shoot at our sign. Not that I condone it, of course. … It just means you’re part of the community.”
Greby, COO and senior vice president of the Alaska Aerospace Corp., then pointed at a yield sign and the speed limit sign next to it. All of the highway signs have been used for target practice.
About 45 miles from downtown Kodiak, at the end of a scenic highway that feasts the eyes with snow-capped mountains, gorgeous rivers and nesting bald eagles, the Kodiak Launch Complex has also been a recent target of a public relations nightmare after a failed rocket launch on Aug. 25, 2014.
Even after it’s announcement early this month that local construction crews have cleared all of the debris from the aborted launch, opponents still found some ammunition to target the launch complex.
A Web blog that calls the launch complex “Space Pork Kodiak” accuses the aerospace corporation of trashing the ocean beaches at Narrow Cape and leaving orange containment fences, plastic debris and driftwood.
Greby said the orange fences were set up “just to keep people out of this area” until environmental officials order their removal.
Opponents distributed photos of signs warning people about the presence of explosives around the containment fences, but Greby said explosives were cleared in December.
“The last of it was gone, but our customer with custody of that hasn’t released us to take those signs down,” he said.
“Right after the rocket explosion, when you blow a rocket apart, there are chunks of propellant around. Are they explosives? Not really. They’re burned,” Greby said.
Through the years, opponents of the launch complex have raised questions about public safety, cumulative environmental impacts, unjustified cost to the state and “the corporation’s lack of clear vision or business plan.”
Greby and deputy general manager Chris Sibrel, during a tour of the launch complex on Thursday, complained about the negative comments and the frustration employees experienced after the last rocket launch.
“It does make people sick when something doesn’t go right because you worked hard at it,” Greby said.
It’s always an emotional moment for launch complex employees, he said.
After getting all the permits ready, it still takes about two years of preparation before a rocket can take off, he said. That’s a total of about five or six years spent prior to the launch, he said.
“I tell you, people still cry even when it’s a successful launch,” Greby said, “because they want to see their baby fly.”
“It’s all together, you know, it’s a system,” he said. “But you always wonder, ‘Could I have done something different, could I have done something better?’ You really get at the causes of these because you don’t want them to happen again.”
Greby said AAC averaged about 35 employees, but with the state budget cuts this year, the corporation will be operating with about 25 to 30 employees.
Since the Alaska Aerospace board was created in 1992, the corporation has received about $50 million from the state, Greby said. During that time, it also boosted the local economy, bringing about $300 million in economic impact to the Kodiak area, he said.
It costs about $2.5 million for any customer to use the corporation’s facilities, Greby said. For each launch, local businesses would benefit about $3 million. A company report from the 2014 launch said employees of their last customer spent more than $250,000 in rental cars alone. They also spent more than $1.3 million on hotel rooms.
Greby said Alaska Aerospace President Craig Campbell has laid out a business plan based on a reduced budget. This year, he said AAC was hoping to receive $4 million in state funding, tapering off to $2 million the next year as they hope to eradicate dependence on funding from state coffers.
During the tour, Greby and Sibrel showed the launch pad. The foundation of the main structure, made of solid concrete and steel, survived the pressure wave that damaged the walls of the launch pad and the nearby building that stood on a rail system. A few thin steel bars within the structure could be seen twisted, presumably as a result of the blast.
Greby said the estimated $26 million to $29 million repair cost will be shouldered by insurance.
He said AAC is currently engaged in building revenue generation and in talks with six potential customers. He said he could not divulge whether the six would include the military.
“We still have a lot of customers interested, but they will not sign until they have confidence that our launch site will be ready when they need us,” Greby said. “This is a very tough dryspell for us, which is why we have to tighten our belts.”