The Federal Aviation Administration is delaying a decision on a proposed spaceport in Camden County, a decision it was initially scheduled to announce three years ago.
The federal agency’s Record of Decision, most recently planned for Wednesday, is now scheduled for Dec. 15.
While FAA officials did not explain the most recent delay, opponents to the proposed spaceport believe they know the answer.
Kevin Lang, an Athens lawyer whose family owns property on Little Cumberland Island, said strong opposition from the U.S. Department of Interior, as well as concerns expressed by residents on Little Cumberland Island, has put the FAA in “a very difficult decision.”
If the county gets the launch site operator’s license, the site in Camden would be the only spaceport in the nation to launch rockets over an occupied area.
Residents on Cumberland and Little Cumberland islands have expressed opposition and disappointment with the county’s apparent lack of concern about a possible launch malfunction, he said.
“What makes this all so remarkable is how little the Camden County Board of Commissioners cares about Cumberland Island National Seashore, which is a real economic driver for Camden County,” Lang said. “Instead, they are focused on compelling the FAA to issue them a useless launch site operator’s license so they can justify purchasing one of the most heavily contaminated properties on the Eastern Seaboard.”
Steve Weinkle, a vocal opponent who lives less than 10 miles from the proposed launch site, said the FAA ignored the environmental and public safety concerns and “blew through red flag after red flag after red flag after red flag.”
Weinkle said the FAA ignored opposition to the project at public hearings and in the written public comments. Taxpayers are concerned about the more than $10 million the county has already spent with no guarantee a launch will ever happen and whether it will ever recoup the money spent.
Initially, the county’s request was to launch medium sized rockets. County officials claimed it would generate hundreds of high-tech jobs and spur a satellite campus for Georgia Tech in the county.
The current license request has been greatly modified. It is for a small rocket capable of reaching orbit from a single trajectory that would take it virtually straight up in the air, which in theory would make the potential threat to Cumberland, Little Cumberland and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay negligible.
“They ended up having a train wreck,” Weinkle said. “We know there were numerous outstanding issues.”
Weinkle said the FAA has delayed the Record of Decision at least seven times since October 2018.
Regardless of the decision — whenever it comes — Weinkle predicted it will be litigated. FAA officials will have a difficult time explaining in a courtroom how they could grant a license to launch a ‘”fictitious rocket” that has has yet to be developed, Weinkle said.
“Lawsuits will be filed because the FAA failed to follow the law,” he said. “Nobody in the FAA wants to be deposed in a courtroom on this one. Every delay is costing Camden County taxpayers more and more money.”
He suggested the rocket be called “Camden Special” if it is ever built and launched from the site.
Lang also speculated a rocket will never be launched from the site.
“The commissioners and (county administrator) Steve Howard continue to drag the FAA down this regulatory path to a spaceport to nowhere, and even if a license is ultimately issued, it will likely be invalidated due to all of the substantive and procedural mistakes that the FAA has made along the way,” Lang said.