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Marquette explains hopes for spaceport

ESCANABA — Participants in a Delta County joint governmental roundtable discussion heard about efforts to potentially bring a spaceport to the Upper Peninsula from Marquette County Administrator Scott Erbisch Monday morning.

During the roundtable, Erbisch spoke about his county’s involvement with the Michigan Launch Initiative. He said the initiative is being spearheaded by Gavin Brown of the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association (MAMA), and it has the goal of getting the state involved with a nationwide search to find sites for new spaceports and a new command center.

“He’s pushing to narrow down five spots in Michigan to become, at least, the site that Michigan focuses on trying to become one of the national sites,” Erbisch said.

Wherever they are built, the spaceports will allow for small and midsized satellites to be launched into low Earth orbit from horizontal and vertical platforms. About 20-25 launches per year are expected to take place at the launch facilities initially.

Multiple Michigan sites are being considered by the initiative as candidates to serve as the state’s finalist in the nationwide search. One of these sites is Sawyer International Airport in Marquette County.

Erbisch said the financial impact of having a spaceport in the region would be significant — the facility could bring in $8 million per month. It would also directly create between 500 and 1,000 jobs, and the average salary of jobs created by the spaceport would be roughly $130,000.

Sawyer International Airport is not the only site in the U.P. that could become the Michigan Launch Initiative’s candidate of choice for a Michigan spaceport. In Chippewa County, Kincheloe is also under consideration.

Other potential spaceport sites in Michigan are located in Presque Isle County, Alpena County and Iosco County. Additionally, there is a potential command center site at Camp Grayling.

While Marquette County will be competing with the other proposed sites, Erbisch said he believes the Upper Peninsula will see positive effects from the spaceport if it is established anywhere in the state.

MAMA will hold its 2019 Space Symposium in Grand Rapids Sept. 9 and 10.

“We’re hopeful either that (there’ll) be a selection at that time, or before that or shortly thereafter,” Erbisch said.

In other business:

– Delta County Administrator Philip Strom provided an update on a request for qualifications (RFQ) for the site of the former Delta County Correctional Facility.

“We are working with a developer on this project — we did have one submission on our RFQ that we sent out,” Strom said.

According to Strom, the identity of the developer is not yet being publicly discussed.

A rough draft of a development agreement between the city of Escanaba, Delta County and the developer has been created. The parties involved with the development agreement are set to meet Wednesday with the goal of finalizing terms for the agreement; if the terms are finalized, the Delta County Board of Commissioners and the Escanaba City Council will discuss whether or not to enter into the agreement.

The city and county are also working to clear the property’s title, which will make the transfer of the title to the developer possible.

According to Escanaba City Manager Patrick Jordan, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy has stated the conveyance fee for the bottomland will be $23,700 — 30 percent of the land’s appraised value.

Strom said if things go well, construction at the site of the former correctional facility is likely to begin next spring.

“We’re not going to be breaking ground any time this year, probably, but we are decommissioning the old jail,” he said.

– roundtable participants were informed the House of Ludington has not been approved for additional funding for senior low-income housing.

– State Sen. Ed McBroom and State Rep. Beau LaFave shared information on various legislative issues in Michigan. Issues they discussed included the “dark store” tax theory, Michigan’s veterans property tax exemption, Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Line 5 tunnel and the state’s budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

– Michigan Department of Transportation Traffic and Safety Engineer Ben Feldhausen spoke about potentially establishing an access management/corridor advisory group for Delta County. Attendees agreed to continue discussion on this matter at future joint governmental roundtables.

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