From today's Daytona Beach News-Journal: We gotta do something!!!
Space Center expansion plans threaten hot fishing spot
By JORDAN KAHN
Worry is spreading through the regional angling community that Kennedy Space Center's plan for a new launch complex involves permanently closing the Mosquito Lagoon from Haulover Canal south.
That would halt fishing on half of a sport fishing area so treasured it's known as "The Redfish Capital of the World," not to mention badly tarnishing the allure of a resource that attracts untold thousands of dollars to local economies.
Tom Lelle, owner of Lelle's Bait & Tackle in Titusville, gave a hint of the potential impact new restrictions on this area might bring.
"I hate it when the shuttle is out there on the pad," he said. "Every day that it's out there it costs me $500. If people can't go surf fishing at Playalinda Beach . . . why would they come use my bait shop?"
Space Center officials said nothing has been decided yet but would not rule out possible closures. And they are holding a series of meetings to hear people's concerns, beginning this week in Titusville and New Smyrna Beach.
NASA wants to build a 200-acre Commercial Vertical Launch Complex on one of two potential sites. The first is by the beach just south of the existing shuttle launch pads. The second is at the water's edge of the Mosquito Lagoon and at a crossroads of public access leading to boat ramps at Haulover Canal, Bio Lab Road and Eddy Creek as well as to Playalinda Beach, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Cape Canaveral National Park.
"We have not determined yet when or how much of these areas will need to be closed for either of the two proposed new launch sites," NASA spokesman George Diller said.
But a 125-page study on the project's feasibility notes the lagoon site's "proximity to Kennedy Parkway North, A. Max Brewer Parkway and Playalinda Beach Road could pose security problems."
"All three roads will be closed during fueling and launch operations," the report continues. "There are several possible solutions for this, such as moving the roads or precluding public access. The former is expensive and time-consuming. The latter will be very unattractive to the public."
Jim Ball, the Space Center's development manager, said the study, contracted out to Reynolds, Smith & Hill Inc., an architectural and engineering firm at Merritt Island, "does not represent a position NASA has taken regards what the impacts would be."
The two proposed launch complex sites were selected on the weight of that report, though.
Space Center officials also acknowledge the new complex is meant to attract multiple users. And when rockets or the space shuttle launch, an extended security perimeter is enforced for public safety.
Eric Lugo, chief ranger at the national seashore, said, "I've heard people saying that it may permanently close (Playalinda Beach) and the south end of the lagoon."
Dorn Whitmore, the supervisory ranger at the wildlife refuge, said he's heard rumors the new complex could have two launches per month.
And with closures for fueling, partial assembling of rockets on the launch pad, three-day-long countdowns to launch and possible weather delays extending the countdown, even temporary closures for each launch could begin to approximate a permanent closure.
Ball said Space Center officials have no idea how much use the facility might see and they won't even have an estimate until a draft assessment is published this summer.
Sources in tackle shops in Titusville, who wished to remain anonymous, said they have angler clients who work at NASA saying "the closures are all they're talking about over there."
Rather than developing in the wetlands, Whitmore said it's the position of the refuge that the Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station need to take another look at tearing down the dozens of unused launch pads dating back to the Mercury and Apollo projects to make space for this new endeavor, irregardless of added demolition costs.
For now, a world-class sport fishery awaits its fate. So do the people who depend on anglers' dollars.
In South Florida, conservation scientists have determined each bonefish brings $75,000 into the south Florida economy over its lifespan. Fisheries biologists at the Dynamac Corp., an environmental management firm on Merritt Island, said each redfish easily brings thousands of dollars into cities surrounding the Mosquito Lagoon.
These are anglers buying $30,000 flats skiffs, $500 reels, $200 rods and boatloads of high-end accessories. Just one lure can cost $12. From the $700-per-day cost of hiring a guide to plane tickets, rental cars, gas, food and lodging, fishing's dollars are far-reaching.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as of 2001, sport fishing's economic impact on Florida has grown to $8.1 billion a year. That's more than Major League Baseball's record revenue of $6 billion for the 2006-07 season.
And the Mosquito Lagoon is the crown jewel of east Central Florida fishing opportunities. Wildlife refuge and Dynamac studies estimate the lagoon sees some 46,000 boats per year, 80 percent of them fishing vessels.
Capt. Scott Tripp of New Smyrna Beach said he has clients from Singapore, the U.K. and across the United States who come to fish the lagoon for reds.
"I had a couple that came over from Australia every year," he said. "Last week I did a double trip with (Capt.) Brian Clancy with three brothers from Alaska. They live in an absolute paradise for fishing, in Alaska, and they were just blown away by the lagoon and what it has to offer."
There is a tangible level of outrage among the angling public that out of the Space Center's 140,000 acres, a site in such proximity to the lagoon's gin-clear waters would even be suggested for something as toxic and restrictive as launching rockets.
For their part, Space Center officials seemed flustered as to where all this mistrust is coming from and said they understood that access to the lagoon was an emotionally charged issue.
Mario Busacca, with the Space Center's Lead Planning and Special Projects department, said officials are going above and beyond what is required of them in involving the public in meetings before an environmental assessment draft is even completed.
"Regardless of what you have heard, we are in earnest about collecting people's input," he said. "NASA is taking proactive efforts to ensure that the public is involved early and often prior to making any decisions."
No matter where you go, there you are!