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(FloridaToday.com) - NASA has applied for a federal permit to dredge and fill 40 acres of wetlands that link to the Indian River Lagoon to pave the way for commercial spacecraft that could launch and land where the space shuttle once touched down.

The application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is an early step toward readying the old shuttle strip for commercial launches, as NASA enters negotiations to have Space Florida take over the shuttle runway.

Space Florida — the agency responsible for promoting aerospace in the Sunshine State — wants to build new infrastructure at the former shuttle landing strip to support future commercial spaceflight endeavors such as XCOR Aerospace and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's planned Stratolaunch Systems. Those efforts deliver suborbital rockets by taking off and landing like planes, rather than via vertical launch pads.

"Space Florida can help finance the infrastructure to run power and utilities and stormwater a long distance out there to accommodate future growth," said Dale Ketcham, director of strategic alliances for Space Florida.

Last year, NASA announced its intent to transfer control of the Shuttle Landing Facility to Space Florida, saving the space agency $2 million yearly in operations and maintenance.

"We're going to be negotiating with NASA for quite some time," Ketcham said of the process that he anticipates will begin in a few weeks.

The project would fill almost 36 acres of wetlands and 5 acres of surface waters to develop two future tenant sites with aircraft hangars, aircraft aprons, taxiways, buildings, parking, utilities, roadways and stormwater ponds, according to the corps' public notice.

NASA is asking for a 10-year permit for the project.

The public has until May 22 to comment on the permit application.

The wetlands to be dredged or filled ultimately connect to the Indian River Lagoon.

The project, located at the west side of Kennedy Parkway, consists of two sites to be developed near both ends of the shuttle runway.

One site is almost 54 acres of vacant land on the north side of Astronaut Road, west of Kennedy Parkway. That future tenant site includes 23 acres of live oak and saw palmetto habitat, with a central portion of more than 22 acres of wetlands.

Another 106-acre future tenant site off of 39th Street NW and west of Kennedy Parkway has a railroad track and paved road, along with 58.5 acres of palmetto prairie wetland habitat, dominated by saw palmetto, the corps' notice says.

To make up for the wetlands impacts, NASA proposes to create a 30-acre wetland within Kennedy Space Center and to improve two old mosquito impoundments.

The corps determined the proposed project "may affect the Florida Scrub jay and the Eastern Indigo Snake," both federally threatened species. The corps will consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure the plans comply with the Endangered Species Act.

They'll also consult NOAA Fisheries, because the proposal would impact 5 acres of surface waters which ultimately link to the Indian River Lagoon.

Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663 or jwaymer@floridatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter

What To Know:

COMMENTS

Comments about NASA's permit application should be submitted in writing to the attention of the District Engineer through the Cocoa Permits Section, 400 High Point Drive, Suite 600, Cocoa, Florida 32926 within 21 days from the date of this notice (by May 22).

QUESTIONS

Contact Tamy Dabu, in writing at the Cocoa Permits Section, 400 High Point Drive, Suite 600, Cocoa, Florida, 32926, by electronic mail at tamy.s.dabu@usace.army.mil , by fax at (321) 504-3803, or by telephone at (321) 504-3771 ext. 11.

REQUEST FOR PUBLIC HEARING

Anyone may ask for a public hearing. The request must be submitted in writing to the District Engineer within the designated comment period of the notice and must state the specific reasons for requesting the public hearing.

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