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Spaceport Camden's Day in Court

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Spaceport opponent: Launch facility site land purchase should be left up to referendum Camden County officials working prohibit citizens from having their say on the controversial project.

Steve Weinkle

Guest Columnist

Camden County residents want to weigh in on the site for the proposed Spaceport Camden, and they want to do it at the ballot box. Almost 4,000 registered voters signed petitions to call a special election to decide if they want their government to buy thousands of acres of contaminated Union Carbide property to build the spaceport.

The proposed facility is a controversial and speculative venture - economically, environmentally and for a public safety standpoint. But these concerns aren’t what worries most Camden voters. The petition for the special election doesn’t even contain the word “spaceport.” Of greater issue is whether the government should buy a piece of property with hundreds of acres of known unexploded munitions, waste hazards and hazardous chemical disposal sites.

Camden’s government has spent almost $11 million to obtain an FAA Launch Site Operator license for the site. The so-called “investment” was spent on a license that does not permit rocket launches and specifies significant hurdles to doing so. The FAA doesn’t expect the spaceport to begin operations in the “foreseeable future.”

Not surprisingly, Camden’s argument against the special election to a Superior Court just is the same as that used by compulsive gamblers: We’ll lose it all if we don’t keep gambling. We promise the next roll will be the winner.

Residents are being told the upside to a spaceport operation is that some unknown number of jobs might be created, and that some of those jobs might go to existing Camden residents. Some home building might result. Some visitors might come to watch Camden’s tiny rocket launches.

Camden’s speculative economic analysis borders on the obscene with every value pure guesswork. Even worse, Camden cannot name a spaceport that does not require government subsidies, grants, and handouts. If the county government buys the property, taxpayers lose out on $50,308 in annual property taxes paid by Union Carbide.

In a Jan. 11 hearing on an order that would delay Camden County’s purchase of the property, County Attorney John Myers attempt to discredit election petition signers by insulting them. He subpoenaed several petitioners to testify and challenged threatened them as if they were simple-minded and had been drawn into a scheme to cheat their government out of the Union Carbide property.

The county attorney claimed the petition was presented “too late” in regards to the contractual purchase period. But since the government refused to release an unredacted copy of the often-revised Union Carbide contract, the public has no way of knowing when “too late” would be.

The testimony should have focused on the ongoing waste of millions of dollars on risky land the public should never own.

Brunswick Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Stephen Scarlett will decide in the coming days whether to grant the additional time needed to move forward with a special election. The Probate Court is still certifying petitioner signatures. Approximately 3,450 are needed to qualify for a ballot referendum.

In the meantime, the Camden County government’s efforts to squash the special election - to let the people have their say - underscores all that is wrong with Spaceport Camden.


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