Thursday, February 11, 2016

Commissioners look to the sky

By Will Bublitz

Lincoln County might become the “Cape Canaveral of the Plains” for a day if it is selected as the site for a rocket launching next summer.

This exciting possibility was raised during the Lincoln County Commissioners meeting last Friday, Feb. 5. Troy McCue, executive director of the Lincoln County Economic Development Corporation (LCEDC), said the Colorado Farm Bureau had recently contacted him about the possibility.

McCue explained the United Launch Alliance (ULA) is seeking a launching site in a rural area of Eastern Colorado for its 50-foot, 1,300 lbs. rocket. ULA had originally wanted to launch it from Peterson Air Force Base at Colorado Springs, but was unable to get final approval. Lincoln County, specifically the Karval area, is under consideration as one of the possible sites.

Formed in 2006, ULA is a 50-50 joint venture owned by Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company. Headquartered in Centennial, Colo., it has provided launch services for government and commercial satellites.

The proposed launch, scheduled for July 2016, would be of ULA’s “Future Heavy,” the world’s largest sport rocket being designed and built by ULA’s interns. The launch would be in partnership with Ball Aerospace and the Space Foundation.

The 50-foot rocket will be carrying a payload of science projects designed by student groups in Colorado. The rocket is designed to reach an altitude of 10,000 feet above the ground before deploying a parachute to allow it to float back to Earth.

McCue said the proposed launch is expected to bring up to 2,500 participants and spectators to the site.

Also attending Friday’s meeting was John DeWitt, Lincoln County’s Land Use Administrator and Emergency Manager who was asked about the proposed launch. DeWitt said a permit would not be needed because it would be a one-time event. A permit would only be necessary if a permanent facility were to be built. However, he did recommend that local fire departments be on standby.

The main reason that DeWitt was at Friday’s meeting was to present the 2016 Lincoln County Annual Operating Plan on cooperative wildfire protection. The commissioners approved the plan which must be signed by both the board’s chairman and the Lincoln County Sheriff.

In other business at Friday’s meeting, County Administrator Gary Ensign spoke about the need for a clear policy on county employees reporting for work during bad weather situations. The issue was prompted by one department declaring a “snow day” via email during last week’s heavy snowstorm.
After some discussion, the commissioners and Ensign agreed that each department director can decide whether to delay the start of the work day or release employees early from work due to bad driving conditions during severe weather. However, only a joint decision by the commissioner chairman, county administrator and the sheriff can close the courthouse for the day. 

Also during Friday’s meeting, the commissioners disagreed on accepting a revised proposal from Nebraska Safety and Fire Equipment, Inc. to replace sprinkler heads and fire suppression system nozzles in the courthouse and sheriff’s office. The company, which had handled the courthouse’s fire suppression system for years, was asking for more than $27,000 to do the equipment replacement, which was a significantly higher proposal than it had first presented.

The board decided to accept Nebraska Safety and Fire Equipment’s proposal, but not before Commissioner Ed Schifferns pushed for getting a bid from another company. In the end, Commissioners Greg King and Doug Stone overruled him in a 2-1 vote.

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