Camden officials aim to refuel sputtering rocket launch spaceport plans

By: - March 14, 2022 1:00 am

Spaceport Camden’s proximity to Cumberland Island helped stir opposition to county officials’ plans to launch rockets from the mainland. Camden voters overwhelmingly rejected the spaceport in a March 8 special election, adding another roadblock to the project. National Park Service

The long journey to launch rockets off the Georgia coast is running low on fuel as Spaceport Camden opponents brace for a final push from county officials to salvage their plans.

Camden County’s spaceport project suffered a new setback Thursday as the Georgia Supreme Court refused to block the certification of Tuesday’s special election in which Camden residents overwhelmingly made it clear they don’t want the spaceport to be built.

However, the court order leaves open the door for Supreme Court justices to determine whether the constitutional law intended to protect against runaway governments should have applied to the spaceport petition that argued it’s a dangerous and unsustainable project.  

Spaceport opponents say they’re concerned that the county commission will take another route, such as having a spaceport authority or an investor to complete a deal with Union Carbide Corp. for the former industrial site.

County Administrator Steve Howard said on Friday that the private sector is showing interest in building a spaceport that will comply with federal licensing requirements.

“They have indicated their renewed interest in having their own spaceport,” Howard said in an email. “Camden’s future remains bright!”

In December, after years of planning and review and a $10 million investment from the county, the Federal Aviation Administration approved an operator’s license allowing up to 12 commercial rocket launches annually.

Nevertheless, opponents were able to collect enough signatures to trigger Tuesday’s special in which 72% of the just under 6,000 ballots cast were in opposition to the project, which blocks the county from finalizing its agreement with the chemical manufacturer for 4,000 acres property.

Megan Desrosiers, president and CEO of coastal environmental organization One Hundred Miles, said the election results should send a powerful message to local officials that they should stop wasting taxpayers’ money on plans to shoot off rockets toward sensitive barrier islands.

“Camden County wasn’t being transparent with what they were doing and it caused the people in Camden County and the elected officials to split,” she said. “This referendum, I hope, brings people back together and really clearly communicates to the elected officials in Camden County what the values of their constituents are.”

“As long as (county officials) have it in their heads that they’re in the right and everybody else is wrong, they’re going to keep pushing the spaceport, and they’re going to do so by every means possible,” Desrosiers said.

Several days before the special election, the County Commission called its own special meeting to select members to serve on the spaceport authority.

Republican state Rep. Steven Sainz, who represents Camden, said he will introduce legislation early next week with a sunset to terminate the authority, created in 2019 by legislation he sponsored. 

Sainz issued a stern warning to commissioners before Election Day that the authority is meant to help attract companies interested in working in Camden.

“I will not stand aside and see that this piece of legislation created a few years ago be utilized in a way that allows the county to ignore the votes of my constituents, my voters and neighbors as well,” he said in a Facebook video.

Camden officials hail the project as a regional economic driver that will create well-paying jobs in the aerospace industry.

The current Spaceport vision is scaled down to smaller vehicle launches replacing initial plans to launch rockets as big as the 230-foot-tall SpaceX Falcon 9.

All launches would have to be approved by federal and state agencies.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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