It appears the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association’s attempt to put a rocket launch site in northern Marquette County has been denied liftoff. At least, that’s the way it appears, after the Powell Township board recently gave a thumbs down to the possibility of a launch facility at the proposed Granot Loma location.
164 residents signed a petition requesting an amendment to the current zoning ordinance which would prohibit rocket launches. Powell Township authorities ruled the petition was unnecessary, since, according to their interpretation, the zoning ordinance already prohibits such a project.
With that, the non-profit group formed to fight the launch site, Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior (CSCLS), has declared victory with the following statement: “We are pleased to announce that the Powell Township Board has enacted an official “RESOLUTION” rejecting the plan by the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA) to rezone Granot Loma to build an industrial rocket launch site…”
Seems quite definitive, but until we hear the MAMA folks concede defeat, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the CSCLS army to keep their ammo dry, lest there be more fighting to be done. MAMA, and Executive Director Gavin Brown, have been pretty quiet of late, but that doesn’t mean work isn’t ongoing behind the scenes.
Where does MAMA go from here?
We’ve reached out to MAMA but haven’t heard back. That might be due in part to the fact that the Michigan Attorney General’s office is currently looking into the initial grant MAMA received to finance the Michigan Launch Initiative (MLI). The stated purpose of the MLI is to explore the idea of promoting the building of low-earth orbit rocket launch sites somewhere in the state. MAMA secured $2.5 million at the end of Governor Snyder’s last term, which, so far, has resulted in the identification of potential operational locations, including a command center in Chippewa County as well as two launch sites… downstate’s Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport, and the privately owned property known as Granot Loma, north of Marquette on the shore of Lake Superior.
Other than the naming of those sites and some public relations campaigning, we haven’t seen a whole lot for our two and a half million bucks. That’s not to say the grant isn’t being satisfied, but apparently that’s what has AG Dana Nessel interested.
Brown claims he and his group are making good on the grant’s requirements, but with the forest carpet being pulled out from under him in Powell Township, it looks like he’ll have to do some more prospecting. I’d be surprised if we see him back in Marquette County anytime soon, even if he can convince Lansing everything’s proceeding as promised.
I suppose the Michigan Launch Initiative, and the state money dedicated to financing it, can be justified as the necessary exploratory phase of something bigger down the road. I suppose.
Done right, giving the state’s aeronautics industries a little nudge isn’t a bad idea. Marquette is already home to Kall Morris, an orbital debris research and solution firm. It’s a pretty big field. And I’d rather the manufacturer’s group, which includes Upper Peninsula representation, does something good as opposed to being found abusing public funds. Right?
It sounded like a good idea at the time.
It’s interesting to look back at the promise this project held when it was first introduced. A Detroit Free Press article from March of 2019 calls the people behind it “visionaries” and referenced the “anticipated growth in the satellite launch business and even space tourism.” It was even suggested “rockets could soar as early at 2022.”
As the process played out, subsequent articles exposed the doubts being expressed by lawmakers and observers alike. An article in Bridge Michigan from September of 2022 quotes State Senator Jeff Irwin as saying, “For me, the most important thing is for the people to get value for the investment. He’s now produced [work] that doesn’t seem to be worth $2.5 million.” Oh oh.
Brown initially suggested the project could create as many as 40,000 jobs statewide. As time went on, that number was revised down to 650 jobs, along with commensurate modest economic impact.
Though the other locations identified in the plans… Chippewa County and Oscoda-Wurtsmith, haven’t seen a lot of action, neither were they met with much public opposition. If MAMA had kept their focus on Sawyer, there probably wouldn’t have been any meaningful citizen outcry here either.
County officials initially endorsed the plan when it was proposed for our old air force base, and why not? But ensuing studies deemed Sawyer inappropriate for vertical launches due to the proximity of population. And then, before we knew it, MAMA Director Brown and area officials were on the courthouse steps announcing the new location… Granot Loma.
According to new County Board Chairperson Joe Derocha, Brown was warned at the time about all the hurdles he’d have to jump to get such a site through the approval processes. The board was understandably in favor of something that would bring jobs and investment into the county, but stopped short of jumping on the Granot Loma bandwagon. Derocha says now, “It was dead on arrival.”
Granot Loma? Really?
Which begs the question… how the heck did they come up with Granot Loma as their desired location anyway? We were probably going to be fine with shooting rockets off from our airport, but on the shores of Lake Superior?
It’s common knowledge that Granot Loma owner Tom Baldwin has been interested in selling some or all of his property for some time now. Knowing that a vertical launch site would have to be near a big body of water, it’s entirely possible he gave Brown a call and offered up a chunk of land he’d be willing to part with, if the price was right.
Brown had previously used the term “green” when describing his new age spaceport, and what’s greener than the forested land off the road to Big Bay? Other than failed rocket launches falling into Lake Superior and a large swath of the coastline being turned into an industrial site, what’s the problem?
Enter Dennis Ferraro and the quickly formed non-profit Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior. The group took no time coalescing into a well-financed, strong voice in opposition to the spaceport. Its membership is grounded in Powell Township residents and landowners, but they also found support from environmentalists nationwide.
I don’t know if Gavin Brown knew what he was up against, or if he even cared. A close look at this whole episode suggests Brown and his MAMA cohorts had no real goal other than to secure the grant and somehow, without a real end game, do the minimum to satisfy its requirements.
Ferraro credits the passion of area land-lovers for being able to take on a big-moneyed, state supported project… and win. “It speaks to the deep connection that people here in the UP and beyond have to our beautiful and precious Freshwater Coast, and how that connection united us to fight to protect what we hold dear.”
A decisive victory.
We might look back on this someday and say the CSCLS group crushed an ant with a sledgehammer. When this first hit the news, I don’t think they knew exactly what MAMA was capable of. As it turns out, Brown didn’t have the stuff necessary to jump the hurdles, but, not wanting to take any chances, Ferraro and company brought the sledgehammer anyway.
Ferraro eulogizes… “I hope this experience demonstrates to MAMA that people here in Marquette County were not fooled by this ill-advised spaceport plan and that we will always oppose any attempt to jeopardize Lake Superior and the quality of life it provides.”
The end result, to the credit of volunteers and donors, is the creation of a new voice in the crusade for environmental stewardship. The Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior plan to continue their work in wetland protection as well as community outreach and education in the broader Marquette County community.
Sure, it would have been fun to watch rockets being launched into space. But there’s a time and a place for everything, and right now, the rocket launch sites already in existence are said to be underutilized. So it appears there’s no real urgency.
And the place? Not here, Mr. Brown. Not here.