Spaceport Referendum Could Set a Precedent

March 1, 2022

Mar. 1—A special election March 8 to determine the fate of a planned spaceport in Camden County could set a precedent in Georgia.

Dana Braun, a lawyer representing two plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit to stop the purchase of the proposed launch site, said he has researched case law and has been unable to find another case where citizens have mounted a drive to block the decision of a board of county commissioners in Georgia.

Braun said a reason the provision in the state constitution has never been used to his knowledge is because most legislative decisions are made too quickly for citizens to contest them.

In the case of Spaceport Camden, commissioners have been working for more than seven years to establish one with approval of the Federal Aviation Administration.

If things had gone as planned, there would not have been enough time to challenge the decision.

The county had an agreement with Union Carbide to purchase the property in 2015 with a two-year option, he said. Instead, the process has lasted long enough for citizens to generate enough support to hold a special election.

A yes vote will prohibit the county from buying the property, in effect ending the county's quest for a spaceport.

The FAA granted a launch operator's license with the provision that Camden County close on the deal to buy an industrial site from Union Carbide as the launch site. Without the property, the FAA will not grant the license.

A lawyer for the county is arguing that allowing a referendum vote to overturn a decision by elected officials could set a precedent where any decision by elected officials could be challenged in the state.

Braun disagreed, saying it's a time-consuming process to gather enough valid signatures from registered voters to hold a referendum vote.

"It's very difficult to get 10% of the registered voters and get it done to qualify for a referendum," he said. "There was a very concerted effort to gather these signatures. It's not intended to be easy."

Opponents of the spaceport say the county has spent more than $10.3 million with no guarantee a launch will ever take place because of the potential environmental and public safety risks posed to Cumberland and Little Cumberland islands. There are also concerns about how much more money the county will have to spend to close on the property deal and to build the infrastructure needed to conduct launches at the site.

County officials filed a lawsuit Feb. 24 in an attempt to stop the special election. A hearing date has not been set, but it is expected to happen at the Camden County Courthouse this week.

Early voting has already begun, with election officials saying there was a strong turnout on Saturday, the first day of voting. A steady flow of voters showed up to the polling place Monday to cast their vote.

St. Marys City Councilman Jim Goodman, one of the people who filed the civil lawsuit to hold a referendum, said the county's decision to try to block the special election has motivated people to show up to the polls.

"I am hearing people are very excitedly voting yes," he said. "People are upset the county is taking this additional legal action. They are helping us."

County officials contend a spaceport in Camden will enhance the economy and provide opportunities for quality of life improvements to its citizens.


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