Amendment Would Allow NASA To Continue Research

BERLIN – A text amendment designed to accommodate scientific research stations — including one run by NASA — in agricultural areas moved one step closer to approval with a favorable recommendation from the Worcester County Planning Commission.

Commission members gave their support to the change after hearing how the first such station in Worcester County, operated by NASA in Newark, was compiling important weather information.

“We’ve had lots of great data,” said David Wolff, a NASA scientist and meteorologist. “It’s been very powerful.”

The station, which is located in the vicinity of Queponco and Five Mile Branch roads, has been able to operate because it was classified as a transient use by the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals. Such a use is permitted for one year and has the option of a one-year extension.

“We had no other way to categorize it,” said Ed Tudor, the county’s director of development review and permitting.

Because the project has been successful, NASA officials expressed an interest in prolonging it beyond the two years the transient use classification would allow.

That prompted county staff to begin work on a text amendment to address scientific uses of agricultural land.

“Things are working well for them and they’d like to remain on the site longer,” Tudor said, adding that a text amendment was the only way to facilitate that.

The amendment, which is expected to be introduced at the Nov. 18 meeting of the Worcester County Commissioners, would allow noncommercial, scientific research stations as a special exception use in the A-1 and A-2 districts. The stations would have to be for the collection of weather-related data by academic, nonprofit or government entities. The amendment details setbacks and height requirements any proposed research facility would need to adhere to.

In Newark, Wolff said NASA was using a global precipitation- measuring satellite it launched in February to collect data on rain.

“It’s up and doing great,” he said, explaining the satellite was more than just a rain gauge.

“We’re trying to understand not just how much it rains but how variable it is,” he said, adding that the radar was capable of differentiating between rain, sleet, hail and snow.

Wolff said the satellite was even able to verify that the storm that hit Cherrystone Campground in July was indeed a tornado.