Camden officials continue to place bets on spaceport despite growing launch failures

Camden County officials remain hopeful that they can purchase the Union Carbide Corp property. as they meet potential investors for their stalled spaceport project.

The fate of the planned launch facility could be determined when ongoing legal battles are settled, but that doesn’t mean the county’s negotiations for the spaceport are on hold.

On several occasions during confidential real estate negotiations between Camden officials and the industrial company, the county has triggered costly extensions to the site of a planned rocket launch facility for coastal Georgia.

Although the last extension would expire on July 12, contract uncertainty remains as spaceport opponents and supporters wait for the result of a Georgia Supreme Court‌ case that is expected to be heard this summer and as another case proceeds in federal court. The county is asking the state court to block a little-known law designed to protect the public from a ‌‌runaway‌‌ government. Camden residents voted overwhelmingly in March to scuttle the land deal, a month before the deadline for land negotiations expired unless it was extended again.

Nonetheless, the latest incarnation of the planned spaceport continues to generate strong interest from a variety of businesses, educational institutions, and the United States. Department of Defense, said County Administrator Steve Howard.

The county is pursuing a public-private partnership that would see investors pay the initial costs for the launch facility and then get the money Camden raises for its use.

“We continue to welcome site visits from interested parties and have meetings scheduled through late August and early September,” Howard said in an email. “Pursuant to the terms and conditions of launch site licenses by the FAA, Camden County may not sign an agreement with a potential launch operator to launch a vehicle from Spaceport Camden until Camden County provides an agreement to buy, rent or use the site. Mutual NDAs in place prohibit us from sharing our company names, terms or specifics. »

Frequent Spaceport Camden critic Steve Weinkle said he “believes county leaders know the project is already on life support, but they’re still spending money fighting the legal battles for a project that could never start”.

For the first time since 2014, the county began operating on Friday with a new $39 million budget that does not include funding for the spaceport, which has already cost Camden taxpayers $11 million.

Weinkle said there are federal grants that could open other avenues to cover spaceport costs.

“They seem to continue to pursue the spaceport, even though they don’t allocate funds, and that seems like a complete contradiction,” he said. “I believe Camden County leaders have known for several months that the spaceport is dead unless an immaculate conception takes place.”

Weinkle says the budget documents appear to reveal the county has spent about $2.6 million so far to secure an optional ownership option.

The county and Union Carbide have extended the option period several times since the original 2015 option agreement, with the county racking up more cost to ratepayers each time.

National‌ ‌Park‌ ‌Service‌ ‌and‌ ‌local spaceport opponents warn of rocket blasts causing damage to Little Cumberland Island and Cumberland Island National Seashore.

In 2020, Camden officials changed their plan by downsizing vehicles from the size of the 230-foot-tall SpaceX Falcon 9 to smaller rockets, eventually getting the go-ahead from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The December 14 license approval appeared to pave the way for Camden to build a processing facility and launch pad at the Union Carbide site where it could launch up to 12 rockets‌ ‌a‌ ‌an.

Many environmentalists and locals still expressed safety concerns after the switch to smaller “rockets” with higher failure rates.

Spaceport supporters say the facility’s success won’t depend on launch costs, but rather on connecting to a $450 billion industry that can diversify the struggling local economy, increase science and technology opportunities for students and attract well-paying jobs. to‌ ‌the‌ ‌area.

Critics predict that instead of an economic boom, development would stall.

Megan Desrosiers, president and CEO of coastal environmental nonprofit One Hundred Miles, expressed concern that the county could sell the land to another entity in order to circumvent ongoing cases. in the highest court in the state and another filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center in the United States District Court in Washington, DC.

In the district court lawsuit, plaintiffs are asking a judge to revoke the spaceport’s license on the grounds that the federal agency failed to properly study the types of rockets that could be launched at the barrier islands.

Weinkle said he questions the economic viability of downsized rockets that would be allowed at Spaceport Camden, as more space companies transition to smaller launchers that don’t generate enough revenue to be profitable.

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