Planned spaceport near Brunswick subject of second lawsuit seeking public records

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.

spaceport, Camden, trajectories

Rockets launched from the proposed spaceport in Camden County would soar over a portion of Cumberland Island at a height of some 30,000 feet, according to the FAA statement. File/Credit: faa.gov

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.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

3 replies
  1. Avatar
    Paula Eubanks says:

    Thank you for covering this story. Transparency is important here before not just Camden County, but the state of Georgia spends any more money on this misbegotten project. Beware state legislators!

    Nowhere in the US are rockets allowed to launch over private homes like mine on Little Cumberland. Camden County wants to designate me as an “authorized person” rather than requiring me to leave during launches—that would be an unconstitutional “taking” and illegal so now I will be authorized whether I like it or not—guess I would be authorized to stay on the island during launches to risk my life and see my home go up in flames.

    No other similar spaceports make money, in fact, all five such ventures have lost millions—check out Spaceport America in New Mexico for example. Also, the site is highly polluted. Explosions would spread this pollution into adjacent waterways, a fact that one of the County Commissioner dismissed on Tuesday because the County would not be buying the landfill, as though pollution were limited to the landfill—the land is sand just barely above the water level. What will it cost to clean up the site? Camden County isn’t concerned about that nor has there been any kind of cost/benefit analysis or a business plan.

    Mr. Nelson appears to be the chief beneficiary of this project, having collected almost a million dollars in consulting fees. Yesterday the Camden County Commission voted to create a Spaceport Camden Authority so that the voters in Camden Co can be bypassed in an effort to fund the project. Do stay tuned, quite a tale is unfolding down here.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Joanna M. Adams says:

    The Golden Isles of Georgia have been beloved by many generations of Georgians. The beaches, forests, and marshes are home to a breathtaking variety of animal and plant life, and millions of people from all over the world come each year for recreation and renewal. Thousands of families live along the coast and on the islands year round. The proposed spaceport would pose an unprecedented threat to all that is good about the one hundred miles that comprise Georgia’s most precious asset. What a terrible idea.

    No commercial rockets over Cumberland. No pieces of rockets falling from the sky. No fuel from rockets polluting the precious marshes of Glynn. Please.Report

    Reply

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