A group of concerned citizens believe public support will erode for a commercial spaceport in Camden County once people learn the facts.
Megan Desrosiers, executive director for the environmental group 100 Miles, said a group of concerned citizens, some with environmental backgrounds, met earlier this week. They have many questions about the proposed project, including specifics about the how launches could impact the region.
Those questions are the result of last week’s announcement that Camden County has reached an agreement to purchase a 4,000-acre industrial tract for $4.8 million.
“We don’t know what the proposal is,” she said.
Jim Renner, an environmental consultant from St. Simons Island with more than 30 years’ experience, said the public is unaware of potential impacts surrounding a commercial spaceport.
“A lot of the important concerns haven’t even been discussed yet,” he said.
Renner said his wife owns property on Little Cumberland Island that will be impacted from launches. He believes the barrier island will have to be evacuated for at least 48 hours for launches, which is a major inconvenience because the island is accessible only by boat.
“There is no launch trajectory that doesn’t require the evacuation of Little Cumberland Island and north Cumberland Island,” he said.
Renner said he is surprised the estimated 100 residents on Little Cumberland Island have not been contacted by county officials to discuss spaceport impacts. Parts of Jekyll Island may also have to close during launches, he said.
Launches will also result in the closure of airports in the region, including those in Glynn County, and force some air traffic to Jacksonville International Airport to be rerouted, Renner said.
The Port of Brunswick could also have to close for launches, he said.
“I don’t know the size of the exclusion zone, but it will extend far out to sea,” he said. “This is the only site where you’re launching over people’s houses.”
Little Cumberland Island resident Russ Regnery said commercial fishing will be restricted in the safety zone established for launches, and there could be unknown impacts from sonic booms.
Critics also question the claim that 2,500 jobs could come to the region as a result of a spaceport.
“We can’t find evidence to support that,” Desrosiers said.
A new spaceport in Brownsville, Texas, has only created 30 full-time jobs, she said.
“Most of the jobs will come from secondary sources,” said Kelly Patton, program associate for 100 Miles.
Desrosiers said she is not opposed to development, but urged caution with the spaceport project.
“I think they will have a tough time proving a need for the project,” Desrosiers said. “To me, there’s not a scenario where I see a win-win for everyone.”
Regnery said there are too many uncertainties about the project to make him comfortable about supporting it.
“We don’t even know if the FAA will grant a license to launch over an inhabited area,” he said. “It startles me.”
Renner said residents living near the proposed site at the end of Harriett’s Bluff Road, about 10 miles east of Interstate 95, may not be prepared for the impacts of a spaceport.
“They want to industrialize an area that’s mostly rural,” he said.
Renner said the county has lost credibility by its silence.
“This is a big commitment of county resources without any public input,” he said.
Camden County Administrator Steve Howard said the process to establish a spaceport is a long complicated process that will allow for plenty of public input.
“The process will answer a lot of these questions,” Howard said. Howard said some of the questions can’t be answered, such as the number of employees, because they will be determined by the operator of the complex. Other questions can’t be answered until all the facts have been gathered, Howard said.
“The outcome is the outcome,” he said. “I can’t change that.”
Despite the concerns, Howard said he remains a strong believer in the benefits a spaceport would have on the region.
“I’m confident if this project is successful, it will create 300 miles of opportunity for Georgia,” he said. “A project of this magnitude will be a positive thing for all of Georgia.”