Often delayed proposed coastal Georgia spaceport could face referendum

Camden County officials hope to purchase land formerly owned by Union Carbide Corp. in Kingsland to develop a commercial spaceport off the coast of Georgia. Maya T. Prabhu/maya.prabhu@ajc.com

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Camden County officials hope to purchase land formerly owned by Union Carbide Corp. in Kingsland to develop a commercial spaceport off the coast of Georgia. Maya T. Prabhu/maya.prabhu@ajc.com

The Federal Aviation Administration earlier this week again delayed making a final decision on the future of a proposed space launch pad in coastal Georgia just as opponents of the proposal headed to court in an attempt to stop the project from proceeding.

A Camden County Superior Court judge said during a Friday hearing that a decision on the lawsuit aimed at stopping the Spaceport would be made before Christmas next week.

Since 2015, Camden County, in the southeast corner of Georgia, has sought approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to build Spaceport Camden, a proposed 12,000-acre facility at the end of Harriets Bluff Road in Kingsland.

Spaceport officials are courting private companies to launch small rockets — sending satellites, supplies and possibly people into orbit — up to 12 times a year from the site.

Nearly 4,000 Camden County residents have signed a petition asking the local probate court to hold an election asking county voters if they think officials should purchase the property for the launch site. The petition was submitted Tuesday and, according to state law, the court has 60 days to verify the signatures and then another 90 days to set a ballot referendum.

At the same time, two Camden County residents filed a lawsuit asking the court to temporarily block county officials from purchasing about 4,000 acres previously owned by Union Carbide Corp. — and has served as a manufacturing depot for insecticides, chemicals and trip flares over the years — until the residents can vote on it. The remaining 8,000 acres for the site are owned by Bayer CropScience.

Supporters of the project say Spaceport Camden would boost the local economy while opponents are concerned about launching rockets over homes, wildlife and the Cumberland Island National Seashore.

Dana Braun, an attorney with Savannah-based Ellis Painter Attorneys at Law representing the Camden County residents, said

Spaceport Camden spokesman John Simpson called the lawsuit and petition drive a “Hail Mary from desperate opponents.”

“Opponents of Spaceport Camden have fought this project for more than six years,” Simpson said. “On the eve of a final FAA decision, they are now seeking a last-minute court order to prevent Camden County from closing on the property needed for the project.”

Delays at the request of both Camden County and the FAA have slowed the process to determine whether the federal agency will grant the county a site operator’s license. The FAA missed their most recent self-imposed deadline on Wednesday.

FAA officials have said they will release a decision Monday. Federal officials released a letter on Friday that said even if the agency grants a site operator’s license, a more comprehensive review would be needed before any rockets can be launched from Georgia, the Associated Press reported.