By Matt Dixon, November 14, 2011
Legislation that could help attract space-related companies to Cecil Field has been fast-tracked in the Florida Senate but was stripped of a major provision Monday that some called an overreach by Florida’s top space organization.
In 2010, the Federal Aviation Authority made Cecil Field the nation’s eighth licensed spaceport. The move authorized the facility for horizontal takeoffs and landing of launch vehicles that can reach space.
A bill filed by state Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, and state Rep. Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville, would officially designate Cecil Field as a spaceport territory at the state level. That recognition would allow Space Florida, an independent special district that advocates for Florida’s space industry, to offer incentives to attract
space-related companies to the area.
“It’s really an economic development type thing,” Wise said. “It will bring businesses in.”
The designation would also include Cecil Field in Space Florida’s master plan, which includes, among other things, funding infrastructure upgrades.
That part of the bill everyone agrees on.
It has already passed out of all three of its Senate committee’s stops — warp speed as far as legislative timelines go — but a second provision has taken heat and was removed Monday by members of the Senate Consumer Affairs Committee.
It would have allowed Space Florida to designate as a spaceport territory land that had already been licensed by the FAA. Opponents said it was an overreach because Space Florida could make the designation without legislative approval, and over the heads of local governments who might oppose such a move.
“Say you have a competing business coming in,” said Brian Pitts, a Capitol gadfly who is with a group he calls
Justice2Jesus. “If they designate that the same area … they knock that business developer right out the way, and they can’t do nothing about it.”
Officials with Space Florida said that was not their aim.
“That was never the intent, to be able to run all over the state and name everything spaceport territory,” lobbyist Chris Snow said during a September hearing.
He said because there are so few areas that could actually become spaceports, his organization simply does not want to have to come back to the Legislature if another opportunity emerges.
“We don’t expect there to be 100 or anything,” he said. “We are talking if there is one here or one there.”
Designating spaceport territories is one tool Space Florida has to recoup industry jobs and business after the shutdown of the Space Shuttle program.
At its peak, the program represented 9,160 employees earning $600 million in annual wages, according to a Senate analysis of the bill.
The portion of the legislation that survived — designating Cecil Field as a spaceport territory at the state-level — now moves onto the full Senate. The bill has yet to receive a hearing on the House side, but is expected to face little resistance.
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