Georgia County still looking for a spaceport that voters rejected
Officials in a Georgia county say they are moving forward with plans to build a commercial rocket launch pad just a month after residents voted to halt the project by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.
SAVANNAH, Ga. — Officials in a Georgia county are moving forward with plans to build a commercial rocket launch pad just a month after residents voted to halt the project by a nearly 3-1 margin.
Coastal Camden County commissioners confirmed in a statement Thursday that they voted earlier in the week to “approve the purchase of … the property where the spaceport would be located.”
The decision followed a March 8 referendum in which 72% of voters sought to stop the project overriding commissioners’ previous vote to buy land for the proposed Spaceport Camden.
Camden County officials have spent the past decade and more than $10 million searching for a commercial spaceport to launch satellites into orbit. Commissioners say the project would bring economic growth not only from rocket launches, but also from bringing related industries and tourists to the community of 55,000 people on the Georgia-Florida line.
Opponents say plans to build the spaceport on an industrial parcel previously used to make pesticides and munitions pose potential environmental and safety risks that outweigh any economic benefits. They forced the referendum by gathering over 3,500 petition signatures from registered voters to put the bill on the ballot.
Critics, including the National Park Service, say rockets that explode shortly after launch could rain burning debris onto Little Cumberland Island, which has about 40 private homes, and neighboring Cumberland Island, a federally protected wilderness. visited by about 60,000 tourists each year.
A big loss at the polls hasn’t stopped county officials. Commissioners called a meeting Tuesday and voted unanimously to notify Union Carbide Co., which owns the 4,000-acre (1,600-hectare) industrial site on which the county hopes to build the spaceport, that they plan to go ahead with purchasing the land. .
“It’s a continuation of arrogance and ignorance and it just doesn’t represent the will of the people,” said spaceport critic John Goodman, an elected councilman for the city of St. Marys in Camden County. He said the commissioners were defying “a very clear indication by citizens not to be in the spaceport business.”
Goodman was one of the spaceport opponents who sued earlier this year to prevent the county from buying the land before the referendum could take place. He said they will probably go back to court to ask a judge again to stop the purchase.
The referendum turned the spaceport project upside down at a critical moment. After years of study and review, the Federal Aviation Administration granted Camden County a license in December to build and operate the spaceport, which would join 12 others already operating in the US.
But before commissioners could close on the property purchase, a judge ordered that the land deal be presented to voters.
The commissioners said in their statement Thursday that they expect the Georgia Supreme Court to declare the referendum invalid. The county has an appeal pending in court that argues the state constitution does not allow voters to veto government projects like the spaceport. No date has been set for hearing the case.
Commissioners previously rejected the referendum, in which 17% of registered voters cast ballots, as reflecting the will of a “naked minority.” Steve Howard, the county government administrator, recently said the county is looking for private investors to help finance the spaceport. Then came Tuesday’s vote to go ahead with the land purchase.
“The board determined that moving forward in this way was in the county’s best interest to protect the recently issued launch site operator’s license and the millions of dollars the county has invested in the spaceport thus far,” they said. the commissioners. the statement said.
Whether the owner agrees to sell to Camden County with pending spaceport court cases remains to be seen. Union Carbide said in a statement Thursday that it is evaluating the company’s option agreement with Camden County “in light of the county’s ongoing litigation.”