Judge denies coastal residents’ attempt to block purchase of spaceport site

A judge has denied the request from a group of Camden County residents to block the purchase of land that would be used to construct a commercial launchpad.

In his court order issued Thursday, Glynn County Superior Court Chief Judge Stephen G. Scarlett said he denied the request because residents waited until the day before the Federal Aviation Administration was expected to issue a ruling before they filed a petition and lawsuit trying to stop the project.

After a preliminary hearing last month, Scarlett had ordered Camden County to hold off on purchasing property until he could issue a decision.

Since 2015, Camden County, in the southeast corner of Georgia, has sought approval from the FAA to build Spaceport Camden, a proposed 12,000-acre facility. The county has spent about $10.3 million to pursue the project.

“Because plaintiffs waited until the 11th hour to exercise their rights and seek the legal remedy afforded them, they now need an injunction to ensure those rights are not lost,” Scarlett wrote. “In this case, the court struggles with the knowledge that plaintiffs have been aware of the (Board of Commissioners’) intentions for this property since at least 2015.”

Camden County officials are planning to purchase 4,000 acres previously owned by Union Carbide Corp. that over the years has served as a manufacturing depot for insecticides, chemicals and trip flares. The residents suing the county had asked the court to order county officials to hold off on purchasing the land until the residents can vote on it. An additional 8,000 acres that would be used for the site are owned by Bayer CropScience.

Two Camden County residents filed a lawsuit in December attempting to block the purchase until a local probate court can verify the nearly 4,000 county residents who signed a petition calling for voters to decide whether officials should purchase the property for the proposed spaceport.

The petition was submitted Dec. 14 and, according to state law, the court has 60 days to verify the signatures and then an additional 90 days to set a ballot referendum.

After years of delays, the FAA on Dec. 20 approved a site operator’s license for the spaceport.

Jim Goodman, a Camden County resident and plaintiff in the lawsuit, said he is disappointed with the ruling. Goodman said he hopes the probate court will continue to verify the 4,000 signatures on the petition.

“Questions are being asked (by the residents), and it may turn out that the proceedings will continue,” Goodman said. “The vote may in fact be eventually held.”

In a statement, Spaceport Camden spokesman John Simpson said county officials are happy with the judge’s decision.

“We will continue on our mission to make Camden County the premier small launch location in the United States,” he said.