Canso Spaceport CEO disappointed with EA response, says rocket launch still on schedule

By Helen Murphy    

GUYSBOROUGH – Maritime Launch Services (MLS) CEO Steve Matier says he’s disappointed with the ministerial response to his company’s Environmental Assessment (EA) application for its Canso Spaceport project, but a first rocket launch in summer of 2021 is still “achievable.”

Environment Minister Margaret Miller has determined that the company’s EA application is “insufficient to make a decision on the project, and a Focus Report is required.” Her decision, issued Thursday, Aug. 23, says that during the review process “concerns were raised regarding the potential impacts of the project on water resources, soil, air quality, noise, flora and fauna, fish and fish habitat, protected areas and parks, human health and contingency planning.”

The minister’s letter to MLS says concerns were raised through public and Mi’kmaq submissions, as well as submissions by N.S. Environment, N.S. Dept. of Lands and Forestry, N.S. Dept. of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Department of National Defense.

“We submitted an absolutely compliant EA report,” Matier told The Journal during a telephone interview Saturday. “We did all the field and seasonal studies over the last 15 months. We compiled additional info about the rocket itself...We felt that it was a very comprehensive document, and it is.”

When these kinds of questions are raised, the minister has to respond, he said. “In retrospect it is not a surprise – but it is a disappointment.”

He said a rocket launch is completely new to Nova Scotia and Canada, which in part explains the response.

“We addressed wetlands, we addressed moose, we addressed everything. So it’s just the uniqueness of this project that is the part that I hadn’t fully anticipated.”

Matier, from New Mexico, noted that the information being requested is much more than what is typical for such projects in the U.S., where 11 spaceports are currently licensed.

“We’re certainly not giving up by any means,” he told The Journal. “The minister has asked for a Focus Report. We need to see some of the details of what she is looking for and we will prepare that report as quickly as possible. A lot of information is already in the public domain and we need to pull that information together.”

Details on what exactly is needed in the focus report will be provided to MLS within 25 days, then the company will take the necessary time to prepare and submit its response. Following that is a 30-day review and public comment period. Then there’s a 30-day period for ministerial review.

“That will put us into January for a decision,” said Matier. “It is certainly manageable. We had not planned any major construction activities until the spring (of 2019).”

The project requires an 18-month construction period, followed by six months of commissioning – making first launch in 2021 still possible.

“I am definitely still optimistic. I have moved my family up here...We believe in this project.”

He said MLS has been working with a number of federal government agencies and “they’ve been very supportive of our initiative.

“There is a path forward, there is a market need and there is a great deal of support for this project in Canada.”