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Petition drive takes aim at Spaceport Camden

Gordon Jackson

December 1, 2021

Link to the story at the Brunswick News:

Opponents of a proposed spaceport in Camden County plan to deliver petitions signed by more than 4,100 registered voters asking for a special election to determine if any more money should be spent on the project.

Megan Desrosiers, president and CEO of the environmental group One Hundred Miles, said she plans to deliver the signed petitions to a Camden County Probate Court judge on Dec. 8 to certify the signatures. She said more than 5,000 people have signed the petitions but some of the signatures could not be validated. That could simply mean they signed after elections officials updated the voting rolls or they were not registered voters in Camden County.

It’s also possible that some of the signatures on the petition that has circulated more than two years may no longer be valid because the people who signed them no longer reside in Camden County.

Desrosiers said if at least 4,100 signatures are validated — 10 percent of the registered Camden County voters — a special election must be held within 90 days. Voters will be asked to repeal an agreement between county officials and Union Carbide to purchase a tract where the proposed spaceport will be located — in effect killing the project.

Opponents say the county has already spent $11 million on a project that will never get off the ground — literally. Even if the Federal Aviation Administration grants the county a license to establish a spaceport, opponents believe there will never be a launch from the site because the rockets would have to fly over Cumberland or Little Cumberland islands. No other spaceport in the nation launches rockets over populated areas.

The county’s answer was to propose a single trajectory almost straight up in a rocket that has yet to be invented.

John Simpson, a Camden County spokesman, said he believes the petition is on “shaky legal ground and significant legal questions will need to be resolved before any referendum is likely.”

But Desrosiers expressed confidence that county officials will be compelled to schedule a special election because the Georgia Constitution is on her side. According to Article IX, Paragraph 1(b)(2) of the state constitution a probate court judge will determine if the petition is valid within 60 days of being filed and to set a date for a special election 60 to 90 days after validating the signatures.

“Just because there is little to no case law on this provision of the Georgia Constitution doesn’t mean that the petition is on shaky legal ground,” she said.” Collecting thousands of signatures on a complex legal petition is extremely difficult. I can understand why it has hardly (if ever) been done in Georgia before.”

Desrosiers expressed confidence “that we are doing our best to follow the letter of the law.”

“The citizens who created this petition did so in the hopes that a judge could help bring reason, transparency, and citizen engagement to the Spaceport Camden decision-making process,” she said.

In a letter to Camden County commissioners in late June, Desrosiers notified them of the petition.

“I find it extremely concerning that the county would move forward with a project that the commissioners know poses serious risks to Coastal Georgia’s natural resources without a true evaluation of the project’s environmental impacts,” she wrote.

Most of the signatures have been gathered by mail, with many still coming in every day, she said. The goal is to ensure there are more than enough valid signatures when the petitions are delivered.

Janet Heath of Woodbine said she has been opposed to the proposed spaceport from the time she first learned about it more than seven years ago. “I don’t think our county commissioners respond very well to citizens,” she said. “I think they have made a decision feeling they have citizen support. I don’t think they want to be told they are on the wrong track.”

Heath said commissioners have never voted to pursue a spaceport and she struggles to understand how they can justify spending more money on a project she believes will fail. She said most of the people she knows in Woodbine feel the same way.

“People are concerned it is taking funds from other projects,” she said.

Longtime spaceport opponent Steve Weinkle started the petition drive several years ago but asked One Hundred Miles to help after the COVID-19 pandemic affected his ability to go to public places for signatures. “Spaceport promoters have drained more than $11 million from other Camden uses, including pay raises that are sorely needed by rank-and-file Camden County workers — or left in our pockets to spend as we decide,” he said. “Almost all spaceport money has been exported to spaceport promoters in Texas, Florida, Illinois, Atlanta, and Washington D.C.”

C. Ben Goff, another spaceport opponent, has lived near the proposed site at the end of Harrietts Bluff Road the past 20 years. He said some spaceport opponents are reluctant to sign the petitions. “I have found in trying to enlist signatures for this petition that there is a faction that agree with the need to have a vote in the process, yet they are uncomfortable with any of the community knowing it, regardless of the anonymity that a signed petition provides,” he said.

Like many opponents, Goff is concerned at the amount of local tax dollars spent on the project. “What I do observe is a serious lack of judgment by the administrators of the county, and an almost tyrannical need to control and occasionally without transparency,” he said.

The FAA is scheduled to make a decision on the county’s application for a license to operate a commercial spaceport on Dec 15.

Desrosiers predicted a vote would “overwhelmingly” pass to repeal the county’s efforts for a spaceport.



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