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Spaceport idea faces hurdles

<p>Cindy Evans</p>


Stephens Media

Government officials have been eyeing Ka‘u for a spaceport as far back as the 1960s.

But the latest proposal — revealed by Rep. Cindy Evans, D-North Kona, Kohala, at a community meeting last week — may be a hard sell, particularly in a county where the top executive wrote the legal brief that brought down the last spaceport plan.

“I’m supportive of astronomy, the University of Hawaii, new science technology,” Mayor Billy Kenoi said Tuesday. “We’re far, far away from any approvals” to allow satellite or rocket launching here, though.

Kenoi learned of the most recent proposal when Stephens Media reported on it last week. No one has approached county officials with any information, he added. Evans, at the community meeting, said she couldn’t remember who had brought the idea to the state’s Office of Aerospace Development, within the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. A message left with the Aerospace Development office was not returned Tuesday. Evans also did not respond to a message late Tuesday.

Kenoi, in 1994 a student at the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law, joined in the fight against C. Brewer and Co.’s proposed satellite launching facility on 500 acres in Ka‘u. Former Gov. John Waihee, who had been a proponent of the project since C. Brewer owner J.W.A. “Doc” Buyers made the proposal in 1986, had accepted the project’s environmental impact statement in December 1993, his last month in office, Kenoi said.

“The issue was that the EIS, done by CH2M Hill, was insufficient, inadequate,” Kenoi said. It failed to consider all the potential adverse impacts.”

Kenoi didn’t say he outright opposed a new spaceport proposal. Technological improvements and more awareness of, and mitigation of, cultural and environmental impacts could make for a viable proposal, he said. But without seeing a proposal, just hearing someone is talking about a spaceport “raises more questions than it answers.”

Buyers’ proposal stayed in circulation for six years, during which time the state spent more than $1 million studying it. The County Council swung back and forth between support and opposition. Business groups testified in favor of it, claiming it would be a boon to Ka‘u’s economy. Ka‘u residents disagreed and argued against it.

Late in the process, a state document revealed the expected profit would be about $7.7 million a year, a figure at least one state senator at the time said wasn’t sufficient to offset all the possible environmental and cultural impacts.

Buyers wasn’t the first person to propose launching items into space from South Point.

A 1961 joint NASA-Department of Defense report called for the federal government to acquire land, from Ka Lae to Mahuka Bay, for a satellite launching site, according to a 1987 West Hawaii Today article. Among the many advantages listed for South Point was that “operations can be carried out with relative secrecy.”

Other arguments in favor of South Point, the report said, was the ability to launch over the water.

Former astronaut Donald “Deke” Slayton tried, from 1982 to 1983, to build support for a spaceport in South Point as well. Slayton eventually returned to Hawaii Island in the late 1980s, as an unofficial consultant to C. Brewer.

County approvals and a state environmental review aren’t the only hurdles to opening a spaceport. The Federal Aviation Administration requires a license to launch rockets. The project would need to complete federal environmental studies, too.

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