Kodiak residents attended a public meeting last week to voice their opposition to potential development plans proposed by the Alaska Aerospace Corp. as part of the Pacific Spaceport Complex’s 10-year master plan.
More than 20 community members attended the meeting, held Jan. 22 at the Kodiak Inn. The public meeting came after a Spaceport Master Plan Advisory Group meeting held last month, in which community leaders voiced similar concern over some development options, which include paving an airstrip, rerouting nearby roads, creating permanent housing facilities, and constructing telemetry infrastructure on Pasagshak Point.
The meeting was led by AAC President and CEO Mark Lester. Also in attendance was former AAC President Craig Campbell. Both said they haven’t made any official decisions after accepting feedback during the meeting last month, and are open to public comments.
Meeting attendees were opposed to the construction of a new runway, further development on Pasagshak Point and construction of permanent housing facilities at the spaceport.
“I’d like to encourage you to minimize your footprint out there,” said Kodiak resident Erin Monk.
Tom Lance, director of natural resources for the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak, said the tribe is unhappy with some of the development options on the table. He said the development plan is “death by a thousand cuts” to ranchers in the area, which include the Burton family.
“We are very concerned about natural resources that helped sustain our ancestors, and now for the people of today, who continue to rely on the same resources for economic support, food, medicine and cultural identity,” reads a letter signed by Jeannine Marsh, Sun’aq tribal administrator.
According to the letter, Sun’aq Tribe remains opposed to any further facility development on PSCA land. The land belongs to the State of Alaska and is used by the spaceport under an Interagency Land Use Management Agreement. The Sun’aq letter also mentions opposition to the construction of new roads and additional launchpads.
Stacy Studebaker expressed concern over the possible development of Pasagshak Point, a relatively undeveloped area located on a cape approximately two miles away from Pasagshak Road.
“Any development out there as far as I’m concerned is unacceptable, even if it’s temporary,” Studebaker said. “That is a very special place. It’s a place you can hike to, watch whales. There have been weddings out there.”
The area is outside of the spaceport Interagency Land Management Area, so the state agreement would have to be altered in order for the spaceport to regularly use the site for an off-axis telemetry and optics site, as proposed. According to the master plan draft, use of the area would require expanding the lease area by 15 acres. However, Campbell said initial estimates were wrong, and the lease expansion required would likely be only 10% of that.
The area was previously used by the Army during THAAD interceptor tests, operating illegally outside of the ILMA, according to Studebaker.
The draft states that if Pasagshak Point is used by the spaceport “the public would only be restricted from being in close proximity to the equipment, leaving the remaining area open for public use.”
Lester said that if it is used by the spaceport, customers may invest in improving the road to Pasagshak Point, which may benefit recreational users. However, he recognized that the spaceport would likely change the nature of Pasagshak Point if it used the site.
“When you start to leave infrastructure behind, it takes away from that point,” he said.
“This is one of the most beautiful places and vista points on the road system,” Studebaker wrote in comments she submitted to AAC. “Rare spotted lady slipper orchids grow in that area and would be impacted by any disturbance and additional development there.”
Studebaker urged AAC officials to consider other options. Other development alternatives listed in the master plan draft include Ugak Island, an undeveloped island close to the launch site that is home to a large population of protected marine mammals and birds.
A third alternative proposes a “marine-based platform,” which would entail using telemetry infrastructure placed on a boat during launches. According to the document, marine-based telemetry tracking and range safety is feasible and already in use by some government programs. However, “establishing this system at PSCA would be cost prohibitive compared to other land-based options.”
Community members also said that AAC should improve its communication with the public, namely by updating its website and reaching out to the public to ensure they are aware of public meetings.
“There were just a couple notices in the newspaper about this meeting tonight, and I think you could do a much better job (notifying the public),” said Kelly Krueger, a biologist with Sun’aq Tribe. “I was looking at your website. It hasn’t been updated in half a year. For the younger generation, we use social media, websites, post flyers.”
The spaceport master plan is expected to be finalized this summer.