Space Florida, the state's commercial aerospace development organization, is seeking permits to destroy 200 acres of the Merritt Wildlife Refuge to make way for a new private interest rocket launch pad and facility. The fact that there are more endangered species on that Refuge than on any other Refuge in the continental U.S. isn't stopping them.
Protecting these imperiled animals against harmful risk is exactly why wildlife refuges were created. With legitimate launch alternatives available nearby, there is no reason to place wildlife in such danger.
Submit your official comment to the FAA, and tell them to keep Merritt Island National Refuge a safe haven for endangered species!
Space Florida is in the process of applying for a license from the FAA to construct and operate a commercial space launch complex on lands within the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a cooperative agreement wildlife refuge created within the boundary of the Kennedy Space Center.
For reasons set forth below, I am strongly opposed to the development of a commercial spaceport in the proposed location (Shiloh) outside the existing security zone of Kennedy Space Center, and within areas of the refuge primarily managed for habitat protection. This area is also adjacent to Canaveral National Seashore lands used for habitat restoration and recreation. I urge the FAA to protect the natural resources and wildlife of the refuge and seashore from the threats of this proposed project.
The FAA will be the primary agency for processing the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed commercial spaceport. That's why I urge you to consider these concerns:
-Under the terms of the Interagency Agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that established Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, refuge management needs were to be secondary to the space program and activities of NASA. All other activities are to be subject to the laws governing the management of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Space Florida is a private commercial enterprise and is not a NASA project. As such, under national wildlife refuge law, it cannot be approved unless it has first been found to be compatible with the purposes for which the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge was established.
-Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is estimated to have more endangered and threatened species than any other refuge in the continental United States. The Refuge, Canaveral National Seashore and vicinity provide habitat for imperiled species such as the Florida scrub jay, eastern indigo snake, gopher tortoise, piping plover, manatee, and several species of marine turtles. Given the likely adverse impact the proposed spaceport would have on federally listed species, it is highly questionable as to whether it could be authorized under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.
-Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is located at a key position in the Atlantic Migratory Bird Flyway. The lands in question are prime feeding and stopover habitat for migratory waterfowl and a host of other species such as shorebirds and warblers.
-The presence and operations of the private spaceport would impair the resource managers' ability to conduct needed habitat management and restoration practices such as prescribed burns.
-Public access to birding, beaches and recreational areas would be impacted by the plan. If FAA imposes a five mile security perimeter around the proposed space launch complex, this would close a significant portion of Mosquito Lagoon and beach access at Canaveral National Seashore for significant periods of time.
-Catastrophic failure of a launch vehicle is always a risk and such risk could have incalculable impacts on the fragile natural resources protected in the refuge and seashore.
NASA has made available lands within Kennedy Space Center for commercial space flight so we find it difficult to comprehend any contention that there is no practical alternative to development in the Refuge.
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Beyond the legal problems associated with this request, is the obvious concern that this proposal would result in one of the most significant loss of habitat from the National Wildlife Refuge System in its more than 100-year history. To allow a portion of the refuge to be developed for private commercial purposes, with obvious impacts to the adjacent seashore, should be a national concern. I call upon the FAA to consider these major environmental impacts and advise against construction, for the benefit of this and future generations.
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