GDNR Flunks Tidewater Protection 101


The following is a factual examination of a single paragraph from the Georgia DNR concurrence letter to the FAA for Spaceport Camden. The extract demonstrates a complete misunderstanding by the decision-makers of rocket risk failure. (The full-size page is below. The complete GDNR letter is found here: https://tinyurl.com/3judswkr)


Along with other numerous, serious defects throughout Director Haymans’ letter, the paragraph proves the state is incapable of understanding the risks of Spaceport Camden to coastal Georgia.


GDNR:1) FAA estimates launch failure probabilities for launch vehicles to be in the range of 2.5 to 6 percent.46


FACTS:

GDNR regurgitated obsolete 2018 information for rocket types that cannot be launched from Spaceport Camden. The range of risks was compiled by Camden County, not by the FAA. The statement’s footnote (46) repeats an undocumented reference from the DEIS that is not repeated in the Final EIS. The ‘range’ of probabilities results from estimating, not from actual calculations of failures. Restating this obsolete statistic indicates failure to consider the source and a complete misunderstanding of the changes the FAA has required by 2021 to consider the most meager of licenses.


GDNR: “For the purposes of performing a cumulative risk analysis (Ec), Camden County

used a conservative 20% value for total probability of failure (Pf}.”

FACTS:

GDNR misunderstood the reference. The 20% presented by Camden was the TOTAL failure rate from launch through orbital insertion of the satellites. The ONLY failures that matter to Georgia are the on-ground and first stage failures for small rockets of 20% for all US small class rockets accurately documented in the following table:

Camden uses only 10% failure rate for 1st-stage failures over Georgia, which is one-half the actual rate and is clearly NOT “conservative.” In 2017, Andrew Nelson told citizens that the failure rate was “about 1 percent, or stated in other terms, about one out of every 100 launches”. Later, the Draft EIS mentioned 2.5% to 6% Pf. Without any explanation, the Final EIS omits Probability of Failure entirely, yet the DEIS firmly stated, “Launch failures are possible…” (Draft EIS 2.1.2.8, Launch Failures, page 2-34, line 22.) The Final EIS repeats the statement that “Launch failures are possible.” (Final EIS 2.1.2.7, Launch Failures, page 2-34, unnumbered line.) However, the Final document no longer provides a Probability of Failure (Pf) estimate. In fact, the Georgia Coastal Consistency Determination document states, “While launch failures are possible, they are unlikely.” The FEIS irresponsibly does not quantify the risk of environmental impacts to Georgia’s coast. The FEIS suggests an acceptable risk to humans while all environmental harm is simply assumed to be mitigatable by ‘insurance.’ But the GDNR has no experience or data to analyze how much insurance is required. In fact, it may not even be legal to substitute insurance for prevention. It is incomprehensible that GDNR was knowingly misled by Camden’s plethora of contradictory so-called ‘facts’, and then subsequently ignored the only data relevant to Spaceport Camden’s failure risk threatening our coastal.


GDNR: “Nearly 700 public comments were received by DNR with safety concerns that claimed failure rates for small lift class vehicles were as high as 40%.”

FACTS:

The only purpose of this shameful statement by Mr. Haymans is to attempt to discredit the public’s expertise. Spaceport Camden has PUBLISHED Probability of Failure risks as low as “less than 1%”. And “2.5% to 6%”. And “10%” or “20%”. And finally, has chosen not to state the Probability of Failure risk at all. Instead, the Final EIS uses the statistically irrelevant term “UNLIKELY.” Despite the secrecy and abbreviated public involvement, citizens have done the best they can trying to figure out what this spaceport is going to be. But even Camden County and the FAA (and, obviously, GDNR) have no idea since they use a fictional orbital rocket for their analysis – one that is smaller than any licensed by the FAA. Nine years into the project and the spacecraft has morphed from XCOR’s spaceplane (never built), to the SpaceX Falcon 9, to a hypothetical rocket that is smaller than any existing US orbital rocket. Yet, Mr. Haymans tells us that “unproven” rockets will not be launched. The FAA does not have definitions for “PROVEN” or “UNPROVEN”, so the statement is meaningless. Camden’s argument that rocket failures are rare appears to be enough assurance for GDNR. We accept that failures may be infrequent, but the Environmental Impact Statement is REQUIRED to study the impacts of rocket failures on sensitive and protected environment. The EIS admits a rocket accident will happen. Yet, the EIS does not analyze the anticipated, yet overlooked, damages to our coast. GDNR provides more substantive oversight when a homeowner builds a private dock for his 17’ fishing boat.


GDNR: “The Spaceport Camden team has conducted preliminary analysis on over 600 U.S.-licensed operational launches between 1990 and 2020 and the first stage failure rate generally falls between 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent.”

FACTS:

Georgia DNR should have consulted the FAA’s Chief Engineer Paul Wilde rather than rely on Team Spaceport Camden’s hired consultants. FAA’s Wilde wrote[1], “an operator would need to conduct five flights of one or more new vehicles with no failures or nine flights of one or more vehicles with one failure before the 60% upper confidence limit is below 0.33 [33% Failure Rate].” Translated for us non-rocket scientists, (among the 700 public commenters mentioned above who prove relevant, after all) this means that a rocket must have completed 9 orbital launches with a single failure to achieve a 33% Probability of Failure (Pf) with a very modest degree of confidence. Team Spaceport Camden rolls together statistics for rockets that could never have launched from Camden including solid-fueled and astronaut-rated rockets. Only the Rocket Lab Electron meets the criteria for ‘experienced, small class, liquid-fueled, but it is at least 205% more powerful than the Spaceport Camden rocket used to ‘verify’ impacts and safety for licensing. Rocket Lab has launched a total of 20 times in 5 years (With one 1st-stage failure = 5% failure rate). There are no other ‘experienced’ small rockets.


GDNR: “Therefore, it is not a reasonably foreseeable effect that several launch vehicles annually will crash into the marsh or tidal waters.”

FACTS:

The only conclusion one can draw from this statement is that ONE rocket crash is OK with GDNR, but that “several” might draw Mr. Haymans’ attention. But the National Environmental Policy Act demands more and both the FAA and GDNR ignore the Federal requirement to study “reasonably foreseeable” events.

Federal Law states: “Reasonably foreseeable means sufficiently likely to occur such that a person of ordinary prudence would take it into account in reaching a decision.” Reasonably foreseeable risk from Spaceport Camden is manifest and indisputable by the FAA’s designation of various hazard zones incorporating state, NPS and private property, and the necessity of establishing USCG jurisdiction over a required USCG Safety Zone, evacuation from certain hazard zones, mitigation measures including off-site fire and EMS response preparations and readiness, etc. Spaceport Camden states that rocket failures are “unlikely” which is not a statistical term of probability. Public records indicate that FAA licensed small rockets fail during pre-launch or 1st-stage operation approximately one in five launches resulting in catastrophic destruction of the rocket. The next statement from Haymans letter indicates GDNR is willing to accept the impacts of one (or several) rockets on properties within its public trust responsibilities.


GDNR: “In the event of a launch vehicle failure that impacts tidal lands or waters out to the 3-mile limit of State waters, debris and/or contaminants will be removed when environmentally feasible and the area restored;”

FACTS:

Instead of protecting the “estuary, the marshes, our soils, air, water” and the recreation and commercial value of those public-trust areas, and the associated livelihoods supported by our coast, the GDNR fails to protect them at all. Mr. Haymans essentially says, ‘We’ll fix them, if we can.’


GDNR: Mr. Haymans wrote, “We don’t find the mechanisms within current state law to object to Camden County’s federal consistency concurrence.”

Georgia laws “don’t contemplate rocket launches,” he said. “They’re there to protect the estuary, the marshes, our soils, air, water, but there’s nothing in Georgia law at the moment that regulates rocket launches.”

FACTS:

The Official Code of Georgia 12-5-281 section below for the legal guidance GDNR has received, and ignored, from the Georgia Legislature.

Official Code of Georgia 12-5-281: The General Assembly finds and declares that the coastal marshlands of Georgia comprise a vital natural resource system. It is recognized that the estuarine area of Georgia is the habitat of many species of marine life and wildlife, and, without the food supplied by the marshlands, such marine life and wildlife cannot survive. The General Assembly further finds that intensive marine research has revealed that the estuarine marshlands of coastal Georgia are among the richest providers of nutrients in the world. Such marshlands provide a nursery for commercially and recreationally important species of shellfish and other wildlife, provide a great buffer against flooding and erosion, and help control and disseminate pollutants. Also, it is found that the coastal marshlands provide a natural recreation resource which has become vitally linked to the economy of Georgia's coastal zone and to that of the entire state. The General Assembly further finds that this coastal marshland resource system is costly, if not impossible, to reconstruct or rehabilitate once adversely affected by man related activities and is important to conserve for the present and future use and enjoyment of all citizens and visitors to this state. The General Assembly further finds that the coastal marshlands are a vital area of the state and are essential to maintain the health, safety, and welfare of all the citizens of the state. Therefore, the General Assembly declares that the management of the coastal marshlands has more than local significance, is of equal importance to all citizens of the state, is of state-wide concern, and consequently is properly a matter for regulation under the police power of the state. The General Assembly further finds and declares that activities and structures in the coastal marshlands must be regulated to ensure that the values and functions of the coastal marshlands are not impaired and to fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as public trustees of the coastal marshlands for succeeding generations.


SUMMARY:

Georgia law empowers GDNR with substantive authority to protect our tidewaters from all risks.

  • GDNR appears to rely on an informal legal analysis from a single examiner at the Georgia Department of Law. The letter simply ignores the inherent, inevitable, and unavoidable risks to public-trust land from rocket launches.

  • GDNR’s analysis blindly accepts Camden’s claims of “unlikely” risk probability, and similarly assumes that mitigation can return our coast to original condition.

  • GDNR has trusted spaceport consultants who are paid to license spaceports which means GDNR leadership has failed to protect our coast from the obviously understated and misrepresented risks.

  • GDNR’s analysis ignores the intent of the Legislature as stated in OCGA 12-5-281.

  • GDNR ignores the factual history of small rocket failures and fails to examine whether the risks are mitigatable, or not.

  • GDNR assumes that the Legislature is willing to accept an unexpected risk like rocket launches that could not have been anticipated when the law was written.

  • GDNR has had more than 5-years to get the regulations in place to protect our marshes from small to large rockets.

  • GDNR’s failure to anticipate reasonably foreseeable rocket catastrophes is now the defense of omission Mr. Haymans hides behind for his division’s failure to perform their Legislated responsibilities.

Instead of protecting the “estuary, the marshes, our soils, air, water”, the recreation and commercial value of public-trust areas, and the associated livelihoods supported by our coast, the GDNR fails to protect them at all.

[1] Wilde, “Probability of Failure Analysis Standards and Guidelines for Expendable Launch Vehicles”, 2013

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