3 August 2004
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is extending the comment deadline for the Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation’s request for greater management
authority at Narrow Cape, DNR official Jeff Ginalias announced at the conclusion of Monday’s public hearing.
Comments on the request will now be taken by the department until Sept. 1.
AADC made its request early this year for management authority on 14,000 additional acres of state land above the 3,700 acres it can already restrict access to, citing Department of Defense requirements in a new missile defense contract.
Several individuals in the standing-room-only crowd at the public hearing pointed out that the total request locks the public out of over half the state-owned lands on the Kodiak road system.
However, AADC officials consistently insisted that the restrictions would last only five or six hours per launch campaign with three or four campaigns occurring per year.
Sal Cuccarese, representing the AADC at the public hearing, pointed out that the corporation had only restricted access for 30 hours over the past nine years.
However, many people testifying at the public hearing believe that this is just the first step in what some called a “land grab.”
“There is absolutely no guarantee that AADC will not restrict access at other times,” Brad Stevens said.
“Launch dates cannot be accurately predicted more than a few weeks in advance and closing access would place an undue burden on commercial guiding activities camping hiking and other recreation activities in the area.”
Pat Ladner, president and CEO of AADC in his letter requesting the additional management authority called the lands “seldom visited.”
Hans Tschersich, board member of the Kodiak Audubon Society and a member of the Borough Parks and Recreation committee that drafted the resolution calling for the public hearing, said the restrictions would adversely affect the bird-watching society’s popular hiking and nature-watching program.
“The unanticipated closure of a large area, as requested, would seriously impact this hiking program,“ Tschersich said. “Scheduled hikes would have to be canceled on short notice. It would shut us out of a beautiful hiking area, a prime spot for whale watching.”
Tschersich questioned the need for additional management authority for security reasons.
“I believe a determined terrorist could probably enter this vast area despite the restrictions,” Tschersich said.
“These measures seem to be more aimed at harmless people, like us.”
Mike Brechan, a strong supporter of AADC in past projects, also questioned the security that would be needed.
“I think you would have to have a couple of companies of Marines to patrol it,” he said.
Other citizens objected to the secretive nature of missile defense launches.
Mick Milligan, currently running for a state senate seat, testified that the satellite launch — rather than the missile defense launches — was the best for the state financially and had the most community involvement.
“That (the satellite launch) was also, incidentally, the launch with the most public access,” Milligan said.
“The public access issue isn’t going to hurt this facility, Milligan said, “It’s going to make this facility.”
“I frankly don’t see a terrorist threat with this facility, if there was, this proposal doesn’t deal with it.”
Many residents voiced a long history of mistrust and broken promises by AADC to the community as reasons the management authority should not be granted.
“It appears to be a blatant attempt to subvert the public process and it is not surprising that the many residents in this community view this project with a great deal of cynicism and mistrust,” Leslie Kerr of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge said.
“I am aware of no other launch facility that has this kind of massive security door proposal,” Kerr said.
Kodiak Island Borough School Board member Berry Still summed up the community sentiment.
“I’d sure like to see some justification and I think that’s all this community is asking for.”
Many members of the community would like to see the contract between the Department of Defense and the AADC that sparked the original request, but AADC has withheld that document.
A local watchdog group has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the contract from the Department of Defense.
A few individuals at the public hearing spoke in favor of the proposal for greater management authority.
Jarred Decker, a subcontractor for AADC providing security for the Kodiak Rocket Launch site, supported the expansion.
“If they expand the security area out this much it is going to mean more work for this community.
Mike Martin of Brechan Enterprises also supported the expansion for economic reasons, stating that it is important to keep the “economic engine” of the Kodiak Launch complex running.
The AADC is in the business of selling rocket launches, Martin said.
“If their customers are needing something from AADC and AADC is needing that from this community, for the period of time that they are asking for, I don’t think that is an unreasonable request.”
Brechan Enterprises has won two major projects with AADC in the past few years.
Cuccarese flatly denied that the state-run agency was attempting to own the public lands it wants to restrict for security reasons.
“AADC is not a land owner, it does not want to be a land owner,” Cuccarese said. “We do not seek to lock anyone out of the land.”
Mirror writer Wes Hanna can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.