HILO — A controversial bill that would provide funding to a company to build a revolutionary satellite launch facility somewhere in the state is nearing passage despite vocal misgivings from Ka‘u residents.
House Bill 2559 passed a third reading in the state Senate earlier this week, one of the last steps in the process of a bill becoming a law. The bill would issue bonds to California spaceflight development company SpinLaunch Inc. to build a facility.
An amendment to the bill removed language that specified the facility would be built on Hawaii Island after public outcry; the bill now says the facility will be constructed in an unspecified location in Hawaii. Despite the change, many Ka‘u residents are unconvinced the project will not continue according to its original plan, with a proposed site at Pohue Bay.
“We’ve just had assurances that they’re still looking for a site,” said Ocean View resident Shawn Lohay. “I don’t know if I can trust what anyone says anymore.”
The bill would allocate up to $25 million in special purpose revenue bonds to assist the company in building the facility. SpinLaunch CEO Jonathan Yaney said in March that the company would seek a site of several hundred acres, located close to the equator.
If built, SpinLaunch’s facility is proposed to be able to launch satellites into orbit without the use of rockets. Instead, the facility would use what the bill calls an “electrically powered, kinetic launch system” — effectively, an extremely fast centrifuge wherein momentum is transferred to a catapult that launches objects at more than 3,000 miles per hour.
While the bill asserts such a revolutionary project — no non-rocket orbital launch system has been constructed — would “generate millions of dollars in construction project spending and create long-term technical jobs relating to the operation of the launch facility,” it’s still not enough to change the minds of some Ka‘u residents.
“They come up with these cockamamie magpie boondoggles and say they’ll help the economy, and tout how many jobs they’ll bring,” said Jamie Weisend, who lives near the proposed Pohue Bay site. “But it’s all temporary. People will just end up commuting here like they always do.”
“It’s a big construction project, but that won’t benefit the community unless they only hire workers from Ocean View,” Lohay said. “At most, they get a couple of local people to clean the floors. What we get is an eyesore and a lot of noise.”
Lohay also questioned the project’s feasibility, saying no business plan was presented before the bill was drafted.
“That’s the issue,” said Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David, who said she was unaware of the bill until it already passed through several committees. “For something this huge, you’d expect them to do outreach before trying to get funding. It seems very disrespectful to our rural residents.”
A public information session about the SpinLaunch project will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at Naalehu Community Center. In attendance will be Democratic Sen. Glenn Wakai of Oahu and two representatives from SpinLaunch, who will host a question-and-answer session.
“I hope they come in and apologize,” Lohay said.
While Weisend said other sites around the island might also serve as potential locations for SpinLaunch, Lohay was skeptical the project would proceed as planned because of public backlash.
“I don’t know about the financial value of the land there,” David said. “But the value in cultural significance there is huge.”
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.