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Former air base on the radar again

(Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette) Todd Holmstrom, of Michigan Tech, explained to the Keweenaw County Board Wednesday the details of a Michigan aerospace company’s search for a site, possibly in the county, for a satellite launch facility.

EAGLE RIVER — Two potential sites in Keweenaw County are under consideration for a facility for launching low-orbiting satellites. One site is the former Keweenaw Rocket Range, on the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, and the other is at the former Calumet Air Force radar base on Mount Horace Greeley.

The Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners received a request for information regarding the sites from the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA).

Todd Holmstrom, of Michigan Technological University’s Social Science Department, and Economic Development Committee, addressed the board at the regular meeting Wednesday, to explain some of the details, and the nature of the request. In his talk, Holmstrom said there are some unknowns accompanying the request for information.

“One, we don’t know how serious it is,” he told the board. “The MAMA has been pressed for months now, actively pursuing five sites in Michigan, including K.I Sawyer Air Force Base. Then, those five sites expect an answer from them on whether they are approved, and what the priority order of them may or may not be. So, that’s one unknown.”

The other unknown, he said, is how big the impact of a launch site would be on the county, both positively and negatively. MAMA has been quoted many times, he said, saying will have a very significant impact in a number of ways, in any area in which they establish a launch site.

Holmstrom said that in addition to establishing a launch facility, MAMA is committed to establishing an industrial park adjacent to the launch facility.

Also, because they are promoting themselves as environmentally friendly, they will also establish a bio-fuel facility. Taken together, the projects could create as many as 1,000 jobs at the site facility and associated services. MAMA has stated publicly that the jobs will have a median salary of approximately $130,000.

“So, for this county, it would be pretty transformative if all that were to come true on the economic side of it,” Holmstrom said. “But again, it’s way too early to say exactly what this means to the county; but that’s the high end that they’re quoted as saying.”

The request for information is part of a state initiative called the Michigan Launch Initiative (MLI).

“Michigan is trying to get into the space industry, and they’re siting back that Michigan has a history of launching satellites,” Holmstrom said, “and that history has its roots here in this county, with the old rocket launch site at the tip of the peninsula.”

At the same time, Holmstrom frankly admitted that the potential negative impacts are not known. The state of Michigan has provided MAMA $2.5 million to identify a site, conduct “all the prep work,” and to include an environmental impact study.

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