A years-long project by the Midland City Council and Midland Development Corporation to turn the city’s airport into a “commercial spaceport” has yet to bring any wealthy adventurers closer to the stars. Despite its failure, taxpayer money given to the project has continued to pile sky high.
It’s important to remember that millions in taxpayer dollars have been spent without the spaceport in actual operation; but several large highway signs leading into town boldly advertise a “spaceport.”
In other words, the spaceport remains a concept. There are no flights to space, nor are there definite plans for any such flights soon.
At a recent Midland City Council meeting, Councilman Spencer Robnett blasted continued spending on the project, saying that, to date, more than $20 million in taxpayer funds have been spent. He asked fellow council members to take a critical look at the cost.
“I think that the longer we perpetuate the myth of Midland being a town of a spaceport … we will continue to waste taxpayer dollars on it,” Robnett stated. “The fact that we think we can turn the largest secure oil field in the world into a spaceport town and that we will waste tax dollars doing it … I just can’t get on board with that.”
Councilman J. Ross Lacy, who recently announced his candidacy for U.S. Congress, quickly responded to Robnett’s remarks, stating funds used for the spaceport are “not tax dollars.” Lacy has long been a strong proponent of the spaceport.
“These are City of Midland airport dollars,” Spencer responded. “They are Midland Development tax dollars—those are tax dollars.”
Continuing the unusual debate on whether the funds the governmental entity was about to appropriate were tax dollars, Lacy went further, saying, “No, these are not tax dollars; these are funds that are coming out of the airport funds that are only paid for by people that use the airport.”
Robnett responded by saying he disagreed either way and noted the funds spent to date have been taxpayer dollars, specifically sales tax dollars, with “$10 million in recruitment,” drawing a chuckle from Lacy, in response.
At issue was the extension of a professional service agreement with Silverwing Enterprises, a vendor the city hired to provide consulting services for spaceport development. In addition, a city employee reported to the council that the federal spaceport license had been renewed for another five years. A news report from last year stated the cost to extend the spaceport license was $100,000.
Scrutiny of spending surrounding the spaceport has expanded, with Midland City Council candidate Kimberly Crisp publishing city documents showing other alarming expenses.
According to the records, the city has paid $21,000 annually to have a representative on the board of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), an organization whose mission statement is to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight and commercial space industry.
Members of the CSF include representatives of private space entrepreneurs, including Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic. Lacy served as Midland’s board representative until he recently announced his candidacy for Congress. Midland ISD School Board Trustee John Trischitti III has since assumed the board position.
It was during Lacy’s time on the CSF board that both he and Midland Development Corporation (MDC) Business Director Timothy Danielson, who draws a $98,400 salary, took one of many taxpayer-funded trips; one of these trips was to Washington D.C. earlier this year for the CSF board meeting.
Records show the duo spent over $1,300 in taxpayer funds at the upscale Willard Intercontinental Hotel, a lavish historic venue known for world-class luxury and frequented by world dignitaries. The hotel is located two blocks from the White House.
The travel expense records also include $1,042.60 spent on one meal receipt at the Occidental Grill, a high-end bistro notably frequented by presidents.
However, the part of the meal drawing the most scrutiny wasn’t the oysters, halibut, ribeye steaks, or bread pudding. A separate receipt shows a laundry list of cocktails and alcoholic beverages was generously racked up on Midland taxpayers’ dime, including a Bombay Sapphire martini, a glass of chardonnay, Tito’s vodka, and four pours of Johnnie Walker Black Label Whiskey.
In revealing the records on Facebook, Crisp pointed out that just with the funds being spent on the CSF membership and the lavish Washington D.C. travel expenses, 24 city employees could have been given a $1,000.00 pay bonus.
This ties into a similar call by Robnett, who noted the need to spend city resources on more police officers, firefighters, roads, and infrastructure rather than the continued spaceport endeavor.
While the spaceport spending is likely to continue, residents should not expect to see a spaceflight anytime soon.