Mar 8, 2022 - Business

Georgia's Spaceport Camden goes before the voters

aerial view of spaceport rendering in the marsh
An aerial rendering for the proposed Spaceport Camden. Photo: Courtesy of the Camden County Commission

Voters in coastal Georgia’s Camden County will decide Tuesday whether their government should continue its decade-long quest for a commercial spaceport that would launch rockets over Cumberland Island National Seashore.

What’s happening: Thanks to a petition campaign and despite a lawsuit, residents forced a referendum on the county’s intention to purchase a piece of property to house a spaceport.

  • More than 2,000 people have already voted, which is a record for a Camden special election, according to the elections office.

Catch up quick: After years of controversy amid environmental and economic concerns, delays and more than $10 million, the county secured a spaceport operator license in December from the FAA. (Any rocket launch would require an additional license.)

  • Camden began its quest for a spaceport in 2012 in the name of diversifying the region’s economy.
  • The project has faced opposition from local residents, the National Park Service and landowners on Cumberland and Little Cumberland Islands.

The intrigue: In a special meeting Friday afternoon, Camden County commissioners approved the creation of a “spaceport authority.” At that meeting a vocal spaceport opponent, Steve Weinkle, asked commissioners whether this authority would become a way to get around voters if they reject the spaceport land purchase.

  • Commissioners did not respond. They also did not answer Weinkle’s question about how much the county intends to pay for the 4,000-acre, polluted parcel currently owned by Union Carbide.

Threat level: In response, Republican state Rep. Steven Sainz, from Camden County, said in a video message that if the referendum were circumvented he would “act immediately” to sunset the county’s ability to have such a spaceport authority, which was granted by the legislature years ago.

  • “I will not stand aside and see 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 theirs as well,” Sainz said.

What they’re saying: Camden County administrator Steve Howard tells Axios in a statement the county “always intended” to form the authority because an authority is “best equipped to interface with the wide variety of launch companies and developers interested in Spaceport Camden. This is an economic development best practice in the state of Georgia.”

  • There’s been a lack of information and despite that lack of information the people of Camden County have untangled the truth,” said Megan Desrosiers, director of One Hundred Miles, a coastal environmental group opposed to the spaceport. “And they’ve come to understand the spaceport actually represents more of a threat than an opportunity,”

What we’re watching: Polls in Camden close at 7pm.

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