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Spaceport Camden moves forward after judge clears land deal

Camden spaceport.jpg
News4Jax
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Camden County officials have spent years pursuing Spaceport Camden.

Camden County is moving forward with the purchase of 4,000 acres for the purpose of developing a spaceport in South Georgia after a judge dismissed attempts from local residents to block the sale.

Glynn County Judge Stephen Scarlett released the decision Thursday, about a month after he prevented the county from purchasing the property while the issue was still in court.

Residents opposed to the proposed spaceport argued that the county should be blocked from buying the near-coastal property from Union Carbide Corp. until a referendum on the matter went before voters in a countywide election this year.

A petition to get that referendum on the ballot is being evaluated by a probate judge to determine whether enough signatures are valid. Lawyers for Camden County argued before Scarlett that the petition would fail due to duplicate signatures and they should be allowed to purchase the property in the meantime without waiting for the probate judge's decision.

Scarlett ultimately sided with the county on the grounds that petitioners waited until the Federal Aviation Authority approved the county's request for a commercial launchpad license to file their injunction against the sale, despite the fact the county's desire to purchase the property had been public knowledge for half a decade.

"Camden County is obviously pleased with Judge Scarlett's decision, and we will continue on our mission to make Camden County the premiere small launch location in the United States," John Simpson, spokesman for Spaceport Camden, said.

Jim Goodman, one of the plaintiffs in the now defeated injunction attempt, said the decision hasn't changed his opposition to the spaceport, nor his desire to let voters have their say on the matter.

"It begs the bigger question of denying the citizens of Camden County a constitutional right to redress their government," Goodman, a St. Marys city councilman, said. "It's amazing to me the contempt with which the Camden Board of County Commissioners has treated the citizens who simply wanted to have a say in the matter of how the tax revenues are spent."

So far, the county has spent over $10 million on the efforts to create the spaceport.

The proposed referendum, which was on whether the county should purchase the property, is effectively defunct.

"We were fully prepared to abide by whatever the outcome of that vote would be, if the majority of citizens say yeah let's spend that money. What can we say except we had the opportunity and it failed," Goodman said. "Without that opportunity, we have 4,000 citizens who've literally been told by the Board of county Commissioners 'we don't care what you think.'"

Goodman and fellow plaintiff Steve Weinkle, who regularly writes guest columns against the proposed spaceport, say they'll continue to oppose the project over financial and environmental concerns for the county.

Purchasing the property is not the last hurdle for Camden County. Licenses to use the launch pad for vertical takeoff would still need to be granted by the FAA over the concerns of the National Park Service regarding nearby barrier islands and federally protected reserves being in the path of rocket debris.

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.