WOODBINE — The Georgia Space Flight Act cleared a major hurdle Tuesday when the state House Judiciary Committee approved an amended version of the legislation.
State Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, the bill’s sponsor, said the main changes were the elimination of noise and nuisance provisions. The changes will not negatively impact the efforts to establish a commercial spaceport in Camden County, he said.
“This sends a message that Georgia is open for business in the space flight industry,” he said. “It was a win for jobs in Camden County.”
The bill limits a willing space flight participant’s ability to sue for damages related to spaceflight activities for which the participant must give informed consent.
The bill applies industry standards used in all other “space friendly” states.
Spencer said there was overwhelming support from the Camden County business community.
“The opposition was very small,” he said.
Among the opponents was a lobbyist hired by a group of property owners on Little Cumberland Island.
A letter sent Feb. 21 to residents on Little Cumberland Island solicited contributions to the $25,000 it cost to hire the lobbyist company Massey, Watson, Bowers and Hembree LLC to oppose the proposed legislation.
“If this bill passes, it lends momentum and credibility to Camden County’s efforts to establish a spaceport within close proximity of Little Cumberland and Cumberland islands,” the letter said. “Lewis Massey, the former Georgia Secretary of State, will be handling this work on our behalf. The work will need to begin immediately, as the bill will be placed onto the full Judiciary Committee agenda at some point this week.”
Spencer said he is aware a lobbyist has been hired to try to block the legislation.
“I have called this lobbyist to let him know if he wants a fight, then he certainly has one with me,” he said. “I will win it, too. We have already won the first round.”
Craig Root, a St. Marys businessman and property owner on Little Cumberland, is a supporter of the proposed spaceport. He expressed surprise that a lobbyist had been hired.
“Although this seems to be done by individuals and not the homeowners association, they have officially declared war on the project,” Root said. “I had no idea they would go this far.”
Despite the opposition, the proposed spaceport legislation got a boost with a letter of support to the state House Judiciary Committee from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
“As the commercial space industry continues to grow from its current base of $330 billion per year, Georgia has an opportunity to position itself as an attractive hub for the industry’s future business activities and operations, bringing significant economic and inspirational benefits to the citizens of Georgia,” said Eric Stallmer, the organization’s president.
He said Georgia is “fertile ground” for future commercial space activities, including an existing robust aerospace industry, the nation’s top aerospace university in Georgia Tech and launch and manufacturing capability.
“We note the important step that the Georgia Legislature is taking by considering and passing H.B. 734,” he said. “As seven other states in the nation have already done, H.B. 734 codifies at the state level space flight participant indemnifications contained in federal law.”
Stallmer said the legislation has bipartisan support and represents “widely accepted industry best practices” in the growing industry.
“With this growth, there is need for additional launch capacity on the East Coast of the United States that is not a government-centric launch site, and Southeast Georgia is probably the last and best place to site such an installation,” he said.