World View Explosion Report – Cover-Up Questions Remain

A Freedom of Information Act request for materials that may have been left out of the July 12 Memorandum from Pima County Administrator Charles Huckelberry to the Board of Supervisors yielded no smoking gun, but continued to indicate that the Report was a cover-up of “significant” damage to the $20 million, taxpayer-funded “Spaceport Tucson.”

A hydrogen balloon exploded at “Spaceport Tucson” on December 19, 2017; the Arizona Daily Independent broke the story with a video of the flaming balloon.  On December 21 World View management initiated plans for an “Independent Incident Review Team” (IIRT) and Huckelberry assigned Assistant County Administrator John “Dutch” Voorhees to oversee it.  According to the IIRT report, dated May 15, 2018, the team met on February 12 to begin “five consecutive days of onsite data collection, hardware review, and personnel interviews.”  Why it then took three months to complete the report is not explained.

Even so, it would be another two months before the Board of Supervisors, and the public, would see the report – which, in Dutch Voorhees’ words, would be “sanitized” to make it “publically releasable.”  Voorhees outlined 13 areas he expected would be covered in even a “sanitized” report.  Those included “damage to facilities,” which was mentioned briefly in the IIRT’s report as “some property damage” that set off alarms and fire suppression sprinklers.   Huckelberry characterized damage as “significant but superficial,” a contradiction in terms. There was an initial insurance payment of $200,000, but no information has been released about any additional claims or payments.

World View CEO Jane Poynter’s cover memo to the IIRT report was dated May 21, 2018, two months before the Board of Supervisors saw it.  A draft memo to the Board by Huckelberry was first dated June 21, but then re-dated and given to the elected supervisors on July 12.  Why the additional three-week delay?

A clue might be found in Dutch Vorhees e-mail to World View’s Director of Operations, Maricela Solis de Kester.  Solis previously worked for Congressman Ron Barber, and as the Tucson mayor’s chief of staff.  “Let me know,” Voorhees said about the document he would be submitting to Huckelberry, “Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about the report in its final compilation” (emphasis added).  A “final compilation” strongly implies that there were earlier drafts that were revised, which would explain the convoluted timelines.

Since Pima County taxpayers are on the hook for a $15 million loan, plus some $5 million in interest, for the World View “Spaceport,” shouldn’t they have full access to information about damage to the facility they are paying for?

Related articles:

ADI Pressure Wins Release Of World View Balloon Explosion Investigation Report To County Supervisors Months After It Was Completed, ‘Sanitized’

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