The Alabama Senate State Governmental Affairs Committee delayed a bill on Wednesday that would’ve helped replace the Saturn 1B rocket at the Alabama Welcome Center on Interstate 65 near the Alabama-Tennessee state line while making changes to the laws governing the removal of monuments.
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 just needed basic renovations. However, during a meeting with stakeholders and engineers in October, the cost of preserving the rocket was estimated to be $7 million.
But other lawmakers expressed concern that replacing the rocket would require an amendment to the 2017 Memorial Preservation Act (MPA). The law protects monuments in place for more than 40 years on public property from being removed. Localities can be fined $25,000 for removing protected monuments.
The Senate bill, sponsored by State Sen. Tom Butler (R-Madison), makes several amendments to the MPA and requires the Alabama State Council on the Arts to design and plan a replica of the Saturn 1B rocket.
However, Democrats expressed concern about a provision in the bill that increases penalties for removing the monument from the one-time $25,000 fine to a fine of $5,000 every day that the monument is not restored.
During the committee meeting, 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.
After discussion, the committee unanimously agreed to put a hold on the bill.
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