Guest Opinion: All’s Not Well in Spaceport America’s Progress

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space at Spaceport America. (Credit: David Wilson, Spaceport America)

By William I. Buhler
Board Member
T or C Space Center, Inc. 

Contrary to the report on Spaceport progress by Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson in Monday’s Albuquerque Journal, please consider the following:

  • The original scope of the Spaceport called for a runway 10,000 feet long. For safety reasons, officials from Virgin Galactic have recently recommended an addition of 2,000 feet in runway length, which the Spaceport Board approved and agreed to pay for at an additional $7 million that was not mentioned in the article. This length may still prove insufficient since spaceports in other states are planning 14,000-foot to 16,000-foot runways instead of the 12,000 feet now proposed here.
  • Also, the following statement by Anderson is not correct: “As originally planned and promised to voters several years ago, the Visitor Experience consisted of two facilities along I-25 known as welcome centers, one in Hatch and one in Sierra County.” Actually, the voters here were originally promised a “Visitor’s Center” in Hatch and in downtown Truth or Consequences. An agreement was signed between the city of T or C and then Spaceport Executive Director Steve Landeen to use the former fire station property in downtown T or C for the center. This plan was abrogated by the authority board’s decision to build a multimillion-dollar, on-site visitor center at the Spaceport site, and the Welcome Center concept was substituted.
  • A convoluted Request for Proposal plan has recently been established by the Spaceport to invite sites for the Welcome Centers in Hatch and Sierra County. After the responses are received and the selection for each site is made, a second RFP will be offered, requesting the private sector to procure the sites and build, according to Spaceport specifications, the Welcome Centers which will then be leased back to the Spaceport.
  • T or C Space Center, Inc., was recently formed to provide sponsorship for a downtown T or C Spaceport Welcome or Visitor’s Center as promised to the voters here to obtain support in the election to increase the gross receipts tax for the Spaceport. Several downtown T or C sites were offered as requested, but new criteria established by the Spaceport Board for a 10-acre site visible from I-25 Interstate make a downtown T or C site impossible.
  • Anderson did not include in her report the fact that the Spaceport Board recently voted to use excess bond payment funds intended for brick-and-mortar projects for year 2013 administrative expense, since no other funds had been provided.
  • The economic development for the local communities of T or C and Hatch that was promised is now in question in view of the location criteria and the planned size and design of the proposed Welcome Centers.

Anderson states the Spaceport “will attract hundreds of thousands of paying guests into our communities.” This may be a Disneyland dream of the planners of the Spaceport Experience. This economic development must be delivered now if continued local citizen support for the Spaceport tax is expected.

William I. Buhler is a lawyer and a long-time resident of Truth or Consequences, NM. He is a board member of the T or C Space Center, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing a Spaceport America welcome center to downtown Truth or Consequences. A version of this letter originally appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. Reprinted by permission of the author.