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Judge temporarily halts sale at center of spaceport dispute

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Spaceport Camden
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The Camden County Commission has spent nine years trying to develop the spaceport, facing stiff opposition from a group of residents opposed to the sale and the idea of rocket launches in their backyard.

Just one day after the Federal Aviation Authority approved a commercial launchpad in South Georgia, a judge has temporarily halted the sale of the land to Camden County as local residents mount opposition to the proposed spaceport.

Camden County is trying to buy thousands of acres near the coast from Union Carbide Corp. to build a commercial spaceport where rockets will have vertical launches into space, as opposed to the horizontal launches offered at the Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville.

A petition to halt the sale until it can be approved by voters in a referendum reached 4,000 signatures. That petition is now being evaluated by a local court. If the signatures are verified, the courts will institute the election on the matter within three months.

Two residents, fearing the sale would go through before the petition could be verified, filed a lawsuit to freeze the impending sale.

A Glynn County judge granted the plaintiffs a temporary injunction that lasts until Jan. 5, when both parties will plead their case in another hearing.

"We're very happy that the judge respects the voters of Camden County more than the County Board of Commissioners does," said Jim Goodman, a Camden County resident and one of the two plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Goodman, a member of the St. Marys City Council, says the endeavor to create the Camden Spaceport, which has cost county taxpayers over $10 million in nine years, has been a financial disaster and could be an environmental one if actually completed.

Referring to the cost as a "boondoggle" for current and past commissioners, Goodman says that he believes the deal is still being pursued to save face and that it will lead to future Camden residents paying the tab for a failed project and environmental cleanup.

"The folks at Union Carbide are just having a field day doing a dance around the maypole on the prospects that a bunch of hicks from South Georgia are going to take a tremendous liability off of their hands," he said.

Camden County Commission Chairman Gary Blount says opposition from residents like Goodman has been the cause of the ballooning costs.

"Opponents of Spaceport Camden have spent years trying to delay or destroy this project. These delays have cost taxpayers many dollars in additional work related to incessant records requests, litigation and significant missed opportunity," Blount said.

Referring to Goodman's lawsuit, Blount referred to it as "more delay at the expense of wasted time, needless bad publicity, and its chilling effect on job creation and economic opportunity."

On the environmental side, residents aren't alone in opposing the idea of a spaceport launching rockets in their backyard. With coastal marshlands nearby, the National Park Service has cited potential pollution from construction, rocket crashes and explosions as a threat to the sensitive environment and the nearby nature preserve on Little Cumberland Island.

"Included in those environmental concerns would be any entity in the world that has hide and hair, fin and scale, feather and beak, right down to the molecular level of our carbon based existence," Goodman said. "It's gonna strap our grandchildren for the rest of their lives with the expense of cleaning up a tremendously hazardously contaminated area."

The County Commission has downplayed the potential for environmental harm and says the Camden Spaceport, once completed, will be a much-needed economic boon for the area, bringing jobs and industry to South Georgia.

On the judge's decision, a spokesman for Spaceport Camden says the county never intended to purchase the property before the holidays.

"The decision by Judge Scarlett moves this issue past the holiday season, and we look forward to presenting our side to the court at that time."

Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or Rtroncoso@wjct.org and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.