By David Pendered
Camden County and two private companies leading the effort to build a planned commercial spaceport on Georgia’s coast have kept information secret and are in violation of Georgia’s Open Records Act for failing to release the information, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Camden County Superior Court.
One Hundred Miles, a Brunswick-based nonprofit environmental organization, filed the lawsuit. The defendants include Camden County and its private partners – Nelson Aerospace Consulting Associates, founded by Andrew Nelson, formerly of XCOR Aerospace; and The Aerospace Corp.
The two companies do not appear to be incorporated in Georgia, according to records maintained by the Georgia Secretary of State.
One Hundred Miles contends it has sought for two years to get information related to the development and operations of the spaceport the county intends to build. The group is represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The issue behind the litigation involves at least two concerns raised by local residents. One regards the county’s effort and expense to build a spaceport without first presenting the nature and scope of investment of public funds to residents and voters. The other involves the prospect of commercial rockets being launched over populated areas, Little Cumberland Island and the Cumberland Island National Seashore.
This is the second lawsuit involving demands for information that’s held by the government and is related to the planned spaceport that’s to be built on a shuttered industrial site in Camden County.
The first lawsuit was filed by the SELC against the Federal Aviation Authority on Oct. 15, 2018 in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.
The SELC’s lawsuit contends the FAA has failed to release – since March 2018 – information related to potential hazards related to the planned launch of rockets, and to information contained in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement the FAA oversaw.
The federal case was delayed during the shutdown of the federal government over disputes related to the funding of a wall President Trump wants to have built along the border with Mexico. On Jan. 28, a federal judge lifted a stay on the case that had been imposed Dec. 26, 2018.
The nature of the disputed information is illustrated by a recent application for authority to launch rockets that the county produced, sent to the FAA, and announced in a statement.
The county refuses to release a copy of the application to One Hundred Miles, which requested the document on Jan. 29, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The county responded in writing, on Jan. 30, that the document has to be reviewed and some parts may have to be removed from public view. On Feb. 6, the county sent a letter stating it had determined the entire application was not available to the public, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday:
- “On February 6, 2019, Camden County sent a follow-up email stating that, upon further review, ‘the document requested’ is exempt from disclosure under O.C.G.A. [Official Code of Georgia Annotated] § 50-18- 72(a)(9), the Real-Estate Exemption. Camden County did not identify any GORA exemptions that apply to the other public records requested by One Hundred Miles in its January 29, 2019 request.”