Two Glynn County residents fill out comment cards during a public hearing to discuss the Federal Aviation Administration’s recently released environmental impact study about the potential site for a spaceport in Kingsland. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Lawsuit asks FAA to disclose risks of Spaceport Camden

Environmentalists are suing the Federal Aviation Administration over what they say is the agency’s refusal to disclose the risks associated with a proposed commercial launchpad on Georgia’s coast.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit saying the FAA failed to respond to requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

The SELC asked for documents that it said showed the FAA’s consideration of the risks for those living on barrier islands and under the paths of rockets being launched from the proposed Spaceport Camden.

Camden County is pursuing the development of the spaceport on a 12,000-acre facility in Kingsland. Camden officials have spent about $3.5 million the past few years trying to secure a license from the FAA to move forward with the project.

Officials were expecting the FAA to determine by the end of the year whether it would give the project the launch site operator license it needs to continue with the project. According to a federal permit tracking website, the FAA has paused finalizing its environmental impact statement.

The SELC said it requested the documents in March, around the time the FAA issued a request for public comments on a draft environmental impact statement, but the agency has yet to provide the information.

Residents and property owners on nearby Cumberland Island and Little Cumberland Island said they are concerned about having rockets launch so close to their homes.

In its draft environmental impact statement, the FAA said there was a 2.5 percent to 6 percent chance of a launch failure. The SELC said it believes the FAA has information on potential fire damage, damage to fisheries, salt marshes and waterways, and human fatalities that could occur if a launch failed.

The SELC is asking the court to order the FAA to provide the documents.

The U.S. Coast Guard recently solicited public comments as it considered a request to create launch safety zones around the proposed rocket launchpad in Camden County.

Spaceport Camden officials would be responsible for limiting or restricting access to the safety zones during launches, when boaters would not be allowed into the waterways near the site. The safety zone would be in effect anywhere from two to 12 hours, depending on the size of the rocket being launched.

Spaceport officials are courting private companies to launch up to 12 times a year from the proposed site.

Camden will still have to clear several steps, including a separate safety review, before it could be awarded a permit for the project.

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