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Spaceport Biscuits takes center stage tonight Updated

Michael Morris – In Focus

For a couple of years now we have been hearing a significant amount of hype regarding New Mexico’s latest and largest Economic Development project called now Spaceport America to be located on the unstable wasteland of eastern Sierra County. Tonight the Otero County Commission is set to hold a hearing claiming to address the propriety of placing the spaceport gross receipts tax on the November ballot. The catch is that the Commission has long since promised to not only place it on the ballot, but to also support its passage. So why is it we are again spending time on a public hearing? Simple. It is a stunt intended to get the press filled with the unsubstantiated claims by the spaceport profiteers out there without any questions.

While I have never been a big fan of the local “press” here I would like to extend this opportunity for them to report some facts rather than unsubstantiated claims from people whose salaries are tied to the public fleecing in progress. Ask a few questions. For instance the proposed budget for this venture is currently claimed to be $198 million. At the same time the business plan at Table 6 claims 1450 construction jobs continually for at least 5 years. Let us do that math. A full time job is 2000 hours a year (40 hrs. x 50 wks.). That comes to 2.9 million hours a year or 14.5 million hours over the 5 years. Based on DOL figures this places the project between 100% and 200% over budget on labor alone. How can this be?

Before we move on to more specifics it is important to read the spaceport “business plan” (link). Upon doing so you quickly realize that there is not a single verifiable fact of any significance contained within it. Sure you have more than a few references to “some studies” or “a report” that supports one or more of the amazing conclusions drawn from them. My question is why are none of these studies or reports cited or even the organization conducting each mentioned. The same is true of the claim that one un-named company has pledged to invest $250 million yet we are not treated to either the identity of this company or the nature of the investment. Instead we are asked to just have faith. This is the same scheme used to bilk the taxpayers of Alamogordo into taking the assurances of some low-end scammers in the Sunbaked Biscuits fiasco. Even more chilling is the fact that it is the same crew from that boondoggle foisting this latest tax sucking pipe dream on us. The original schemers were Rick Homans who helped cook up Sunbaked and the spaceport. For his mouthpiece in Otero County Homans chose Ed Carr, formerly the Executive Director of OCEDC, who in December 2006 asked the Otero County Commission to place the tax on the ballot.

So, what do you suppose the chances are that we are getting any better information on the spaceport than we did on Sunbaked? When you contrast the reality with the hype the answer is none. Just like Homans and Carr swept under the rug that the Roberts family had bankrupted several other businesses in recent years or that they had nothing like the capital they promised to invest we are being given nothing other than big promises that do not add up. Here are some other claims that fall on simple inspection. First the business plan assumes only 2 scenarios regarding market share – 25% or 75% of the launch market. With over a half dozen facilities already in possession of FAA permits and several others in various stages of development it seems rather ambitious to expect to capture this great a portion of the business. We are not given any reason why this facility would grab that much market share. Because we say so is the best we get. Another wild claim is that some other un-named organization produced a study showing that when the price gets between $10,000 and $20,000 that 100 million passengers will be lining up to go. That seems a little silly for a couple of reasons. The most notable of these is the novelty wears off. Make no mistake. All of this suborbital business model is based on “tourism” which brings us around to what they really seem to be selling which is a high priced amusement park ride. Read their own words – this business is about tourism.

The obvious question is that if this is such a great deal why is it that there is no private investment component to this thing? So far there is $100 million allocated from the severance tax and whatever the spaceport profiteers can squeeze out of the nearby taxpayers which brings us to the next question. How does Otero County benefit from this? We will never have to worry about hosting the X-prize Cup here again. The plan calls for building a space museum in Upham casting some doubt on the future of the older one which is here. We are told that the spaceport will increase tourism in the county with the very rich popping out for a look at the White Sands National Monument and the possibly extinct Space Hall. At the same time the “business plan” suggests that there are plans to put in a golf course, amusement park, hotels and restaurants on the grounds of the spaceport therefore assuring that people will have a good reason to drive 175 miles to visit these things. An additional claim is that we should get a real boom in tourism from those who travel to the spaceport to watch launches. While I am not certain of the spending habits of this group nor its size a glance at a map shows no reason for many members of this group to pass through Alamogordo. Another possible scenario is this group will actually harm the community with travelers tired from a full day returning home falling asleep at the wheel while “saving” the cost of a hotel stay.

Let me break off to the transportation aspect of this so the next part regarding jobs will have a clearer context. Today the claim is that the spaceport is around 110 miles from Alamogordo. While this is true it is also false. If you do not own a high clearance 4×4 then the actual mileage is more like 175 since you must go through Elephant Butte. The spaceport talking heads claim that the southern road, currently the rutted and washed out CR A013, will be a finished chip seal road by Feb. 2009. This 15 or so mile “road” is currently ravaged by flooding that tears away significant portions of the road surface. That means that either the road will need to be raised significantly and/or the miles of high velocity flooding abated. Either of these are major and expensive projects and unlikely to be finished in 6 months considering that no work has been done to date. The current electrical infrastructure consists of a meandering medium voltage transmission line running on heavily eroded support structures that appear to be the REA original poles meant to serve the sparsely populated ranching area. The spaceport web site says they have signed a deal with the local electric utility, but does not disclose the details, so we have no idea what promises were made there or contingencies. Anecdotal evidence suggests another real issue will be insect control. The mosquitoes looked like a dust storm at dusk last week. A question rolling around in my mind is why the southern road is needed at all? BNSF railroad has operating track just a few steps from the entrance to the proposed site. BNSF is also the company who cashed in selling track for the famed “Rail Runner” commuter train for $75 million while still retaining use of the track. The northern road, highway 51 is by no means a proper road for either heavy loads or heavy traffic. Marked by razor thin shoulders, steep drop-offs with no guardrail or place to put one combined with some rather winding turns near the dam this road currently serves the marina and restaurant as well as a few ranchers. There is no way to expand it.

“It will go a long way in improving that road. It will straighten it out a little bit because it’s got some curves in there. It’s going to elevate some of the lower areas that get flooded out,” said Christine Anderson, the executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority. KVIA Oct 31, 2013 (link)

So now it has been over 5 years and still that road isn’t built. 5 years ago I was heckled by the Commission and the local Republican Party for saying there was no way they were going to build that road without raise and bridge. Well?

The matter at hand is whether the foolish of Otero County outnumber the wise at the polls this November. It seems an all but forgone conclusion that the Otero County Commission “led” by Doug Moore has already promised just about everyone in favor of this they intend to not only put it on the ballot, but also stump for its passage. You must decide for yourself whether this idea is sensible enough and viable enough to be worth taking from yourself and your neighbors the money to pay for it. Do you actually think that a commercial launch facility 50 miles north of Las Cruces is going to do anything to benefit this county? If so, why? Write me if you have one, but please make a logical and supportable case, not that Rick Homans or some political appointee from the pentagon or similar personage said so.

The truth of the matter is that our legislature should be ashamed of itself for spending the people’s money in such a rash and unconsidered way. If I took a business plan that sparse on facts, hugely reliant on faith and unsupported numbers with costs listed on it eclipsing the stated budget I could not get a dime even from my wife, but our legislature signed off a cool $100 million like it was nothing based on this. These people did not even use the discernment used by my 6 year old who would ask why at least 3 times before parting with just one dollar. Why is it they refuse to give us some solid facts instead bringing us such spectacles as a local lunatic dressing some kid up in a space chimp suit to parade around a Commission meeting. Everyone of these snake oil deals seems to boil down to people checking their common sense at the door whenever anyone with any name recognition says so. You know like Richardson in his SBI hardhat saying what a great deal Sunbaked was just a couple of months before it collapsed with all of the money gone, much the result of embezzlement, and fraud lawsuits piling up like blowing snow. Then there was Silly Billy down here to make us feel good about dumping another $200k into the last scheme at the cookie fiasco as they tanked amidst more scam. The favored tactic of the proponents of the spaceport is the 5th grade shoutdown dismissing anyone who questions the viability of the scheme as nuts who just want to hold us down. You may remember a packed city commission chamber with unemployed Presto workers who had been convinced Sunbaked was going to give them $14/hr. jobs shouting down Commissioner Don Cooper when he suggested we think about this some more then cheering as the wise band gave away $3 million that was mostly siphoned off by people everyone in their industry call scammers.

Hello! The time to wake up is any time now. Read the rest of the scammers digest. In this flyer (link) the state says Precheck has 125 employees. Is that true? In the business plan on table 7 list the White Sands Research Center, an affiliate of the Coulson Foundation, as an aerospace manufacturer. How much of this fraud will it take before we, as a community or even as a state, stop being the mark for any con man with a pitch that did not work in Arkansas? Until then you can expect to have nothing.