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Camden voters give a resounding 'no' to spaceport

Voters overwhelming defeated a spaceport proposal at the polls.
Spaceport Camden via AP
Voters overwhelming defeated a spaceport proposal at the polls.

The voters have spoken loudly in Camden County, Georgia: They don't want a spaceport.

In a special election Tuesday, 72% of voters were against the county’s planned land purchase to create the spaceport to launch up to 12 small commercial rockets per year. Just under 17% of registered voters went to the polls, according to unofficial results.

But the fight appears far from over.

As voters cast ballots yesterday, county commissioners asked the Georgia Court of Appeals to temporarily halt certification of the election. The appeals court passed the request up to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Opponents also suspect commissioners may try to use a newly appointed spaceport authority to buy the property regardless of the election’s certification. State Rep. Steven Sainz posted a video on Friday saying he’d do everything in his power to ensure the voters’ will is respected.

"If there is a referendum vote that signifies that the county commissioners cannot purchase this property, I will not stand aside and see that 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," Sainz said.

Sainz's office did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Located on the Georgia-Florida line, Camden County has worked since 2012 toward building and operating the 13th licensed U.S. launch site for private rockets. Supporters say it's a chance for the county of 55,000 to join the commercial space race and also lure supporting industries and tourists.

"Launches at Spaceport Camden would bring thousands of visitors and offer millions of dollars in economic activity to our restaurants, hotels and businesses," said Jimmy Starline, a spaceport supporter who's a former chairman of the county commission.

Others say the proposed launch site, an industrial plot formerly used to manufacture pesticides and munitions, poses potential environmental and safety hazards.

Critics, including the National Park Service, say rockets exploding soon after launch could rain fiery debris onto Little Cumberland Island, which has about 40 private homes, and neighboring Cumberland Island, a federally protected wilderness visited by about 60,000 tourists each year.

Even if the spaceport gets built, there's no guarantee the project will fire its first rocket anytime soon. Despite increased demand for commercial launches in the past decade, more than half of licensed U.S. spaceports have never held a licensed launch.

The FAA noted in a December letter that another round of safety and environmental evaluations will be needed before anyone could launch rockets from the Camden County site. The agency cautioned that "many more reviews remain, and no outcome is guaranteed."