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Goldwater Institute Files Lawsuit Over Proposed Tucson Spaceport

Earlier this year, Pima County officials approved a lofty program intended to launch the county into space tourism. But a lawsuit citing an unfair bid process may put a stop to the project. 

World View Enterprises bills itself as a space tourism company capable of carrying clients to the stratosphere in balloons. It’s CEO, Jane Poynter, calls the planned program here SpacePort Tucson.

"Space tourism has been the public face of our company but in fact, actually, the majority of our business is in taking scientific payloads to the edge of space," she said.

In January, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted to build the company a $15 million base on a parcel of land it owns near the airport. The company would then pay the county back over 20 years and earn the county $4 million.

The Goldwater Institute sued to stop the plan Thursday, said attorney Jim Manley.

"We’re asking the court to put a stop to this deal and if the county wants to go forward with it, it needs to renegotiate and get a better deal for taxpayers," he said.

Among the benefits cited by the supervisors, jobs. In its filing, the county said the Spaceport would create nearly 850 jobs by 2021. 

"It’s an unenforceable promise because the only way that the county can enforce the deal if World View doesn’t create these jobs is to cancel it and then World View walks away free and clear and the public is left with the building and a balloon pad that it can’t afford and will have a hard time finding a buyer for. There aren’t too many space balloon companies," Manley said.

The Goldwater Institute also said Pima County agreed to the arrangement in secret, then used an emergency declaration to skip the competitive bidding process.

"Of course if the county can agree to its own emergencies by agreeing to do projects faster, then the competitive bidding laws have no purpose," he said.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has argued that the deal with World View was legitimate and it will prove to be an economic boom. But he declined repeated requests for an interview Thursday. 

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.