Rockets aren’t the only thing that will fly over Cumberland and Little Cumberland islands if a proposed spaceport is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Camden County’s revised application includes the use of drones and aerial surveillance over the barrier islands on the day of launches.
Residents on the barrier island say they were never notified of the revised plan. Unmanned aircraft anywhere in the National Park system are prohibited with few exceptions requiring permits such as scientific study, search and rescue, fire operations and law enforcement.
Athens lawyer Kevin Lang, vice president of the Little Cumberland Homes Association, said residents learned about the aerial surveillance after they got a copy of the revised FAA application.
Initially, Camden’s plan was to relocate the residents of the extremely small island during launch operations. But there was too much resistance from the residents and the board of commissioners have accepted and admitted that is was not “a realistic possibility,” according to FAA officials.
The county proposes to determine the number of people on Little Cumberland through the homeowners association’s caretaker, as well as shore-based video and possibly drones and/or fixed-wing aircraft.
Lang described the plan as “a little invasive” and “unprecedented.”
“The public disclosure should unravel this project,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing to read in black and white.”
The county also concedes the new, smaller rockets they are now proposing to be launched from the site are less reliable than the larger rockets for which it originally sought a permit.
The risk of fire on Little Cumberland Island from a launch should also be included in the risk analysis, according to the FAA.
“Little Cumberland Island is heavily lined with saw palmetto underbrush, and firebreaks are difficult to maintain,” according to FAA officials. “If a fire were to start due to a mishap or incident, it could quickly spread and would be difficult to contain.”
Another concern is the island’s only dock is located in a tidal stream with limited access two hours before and after low tide.
“This creates a situation in which evacuation and emergency services may not be feasible,” the report said.
The county is repairing a water buffalo and plans to use specially equipped pre-staged ATVs to reach a fire anywhere on the island within 15 to 30 minutes. But Lang said there are areas of the island accessible only by foot, and firefighters will be unable to move the equipment needed to fight a fire.
Lang said the island is very vulnerable to fire, but residents have the resources to fight the fires created by lighting strikes.
“Lightning strikes hitting a pine happen once or twice a year,” he said. “The expectation is if you are able bodied you should help put out a fire.”
While island residents are capable of protecting themselves from a lightning fire, Lang said they would not be able to battle multiple blazes caused from a rocket malfunction.
“We’re extremely careful about fire,” Lang said.
Lang said the revised application is doomed to fail, even if the county gets an operator’s license.
“The threshold for an actual launch is 100 times more restrictive than a site license,” he said. “The county wants a site license, but launches will never happen.”