The Alabama Senate passed a bill on Wednesday to replace or restore the Saturn 1B rocket at the Alabama Welcome Center on Interstate 65 after a previous bill also pertaining to the rocket failed to make it out of committee.
The 224-foot Saturn 1B rocket was one of three Saturn rockets developed in Huntsville but was not the launch vehicle that ultimately took the first men to the moon. It has been on display at the rest stop since 1979 but closed in November last year due to rest stop renovations.
State Rep. Danny Crawford (R-Athens) told 1819 News in January that the rocket was never built to withstand exposure for more than 40 years. He argued that recent deterioration over the previous decades had rendered it a safety hazard.
Lawmakers set aside almost $1 million to refurbish the rocket in the FY 2023 budget. At the time, Crawford and others concerned with the rocket thought it only needed basic renovations. However, during a meeting with stakeholders and engineers in October, the cost of preserving the rocket was estimated at $7 million.
The Senate bill, sponsored by State Sen. Tom Butler (R-Madison), would require the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) to “oversee the design, construction and installation of a replica of the Saturn 1B Rocket if the original rocket is beyond restoration or repair.”
The bill permits ADECA to contract with public and private entities to fulfill its duties. The department can also accept “public or private gifts, grants and donations.” It does not directly provide additional funding for the project.
Butler initially introduced a different bill that would’ve amended the Memorial Preservation Act (MPA) and required the Alabama State Council on the Arts to design and plan a replica of the Saturn 1B rocket.
The MPA imposes penalties for removing monuments that have been on public property for more than 40 years. Localities can be fined $25,000 for removing protected monuments. The original rocket bill would’ve changed the one-time $25,000 fine to a fine of $5,000 every day that a monument is not restored.
During a Senate State Governmental Affairs Committee meeting earlier this month, Democrats expressed concern about the MPA changes. Butler said the fine increase was not in the original version of his bill and that he didn’t know how or why it was added.
The new bill does not mention the MPA and merely tasks ADECA with addressing the rocket. Butler introduced the bill on May 11, and the State Governmental Affairs Committee gave it a favorable report on May 17.
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