As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Draft report studies impacts of Texas launch site


By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN, Associated Press
Updated 2:33 pm, Tuesday, April 16, 2013

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — A proposed rocket site in South Texas won't significantly disrupt endangered species if officials take precautions such as avoiding launches during times the animals are most active, according to a federal study.

The draft environmental impact statement released Monday by the Federal Aviation Administration is an important factor in California-based SpaceX's pursuit of the site near where the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The final report is a necessary precursor to the FAA issuing licenses allowing SpaceX to launch rockets there, but not a guarantee they will issue them. Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico also are competing for the site.

The Texas site is less than three miles from the U.S.-Mexico border and is bordered on three sides by state park land that's managed by the federal government as part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. It's just a short sandy walk to Boca Chica Beach.

SpaceX, run by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, currently launches most of its rockets from Florida's Cape Canaveral, but it's looking for additional launch capacity. Without space shuttles, NASA is relying on private companies such as SpaceX, whose Dragon capsule made its second successful trip to the International Space Station last month.

Gilbert Salinas, vice president for the Brownsville Economic Development Council, which has been courting the project, said he "anticipated some very good, positive feedback with some small risks to the project that could be mitigated."

aplomado falcon
A public meeting to take input on the draft report is scheduled for May 7 in Brownsville.

The report acknowledged the project likely will "adversely affect" some endangered species, including the piping plover, northern aplomado falcon, jaguarundi, ocelot, and sea turtles. But it lists several steps SpaceX could take to lessen those damages.

Among them are conducting pre- and post-launch surveys for the birds and avoiding launches at dusk and dawn, the most active times for the cats. It also suggests avoiding night launches during turtle nesting season.

The report said development for the launch site would occur within 20 acres of the 56-acre site.

"It's important to note that SpaceX is very experienced in ensuring that our sites have a minimal environmental impact," said Christina Ra, SpaceX's Director of Communications, in an email last month. "Almost all launch sites (including SpaceX's launch sites at Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station) are on environmental preserves or habitats. This provides general isolation for both the launch site and the preserve."

Salinas repeated the common comparison to NASA's Florida launch facility at Cape Canaveral, where rockets and wildlife have coexisted for decades. Cape Canaveral is overlaid with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

But there are significant differences.

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