Spaceport Camden: FAA fails to reveal potential hazards, environmental group SELC contends

By David Pendered

The Federal Aviation Authority has ignored a request for information about potential hazards related to rocket launches from a proposed spaceport in Camden County, along Georgia’s coast, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

spaceport camden, logo

The FAA has states its support for the plan to locate a spaceport in Camden County, where rockets would be launched over Cumberland Island. Credit: faa.gov

The hazards relate to shooting rockets over populated areas, Little Cumberland Island and the Cumberland Island National Seashore, according to SELC’s lawsuit.

The SELC has been trying since March to obtain environmental information related to the high-powered effort to build a commercial spaceport on Georgia’s coast. A host of the state’s leading civic and elected officials have endorsed the effort.

The request for information about potential hazards is the second of two requests for information the SELC submitted in March. The first request related to information contained in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The FAA acknowledged last Spring that it has received both requests for information, which the SELC filed under the federal Freedom of Information Act. 

The FAA has not provided any information in response to either of the two requests, according to the lawsuit the SELC filed Oct. 15.

The FAA has not responded to the lawsuit, according to electronic court records.

FOIA is the federal counterpart of a state law that compels disclosure of certain documents, Georgia’s Open Records Law. Both are intended to give the public access to information developed or maintained by government.

Regarding potential hazards, the SELC sought specific information that it contends is included in a “Hazard Analysis completed for Spaceport Camden.”

The analysis is part of a report that Camden County officials would have submitted as part of their request for FAA authorization to launch rockets from the planned spaceport, according to the lawsuit.

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 analysis would have been included in a report submitted by the county as part of an application for a “Launch Site Operator License.”

The SELC lawsuit contends that it filed on March 19 a request for, “any drafts of the Hazard Analysis, and any documents discussing the Hazard Analysis” in FAA’s possession or control.” The FAA sent a letter dated March 20 acknowledging receipt.

The lawsuit states that a copy of its letter was included with the lawsuit as Exhibit 4. Exhibit 4 is the only exhibit cited in the lawsuit that is not part of the file that’s available under the federal courts’ electronic filing system.

This is how the lawsuit describes the information the SELC seeks from the hazards report:

  • “Upon information and belief, FAA has in its possession a Hazard Analysis regarding proposed operations at Spaceport Camden.
  • “Such analysis likely contains critical information currently unavailable to the public, including assumptions and conclusions about:
  • “a. Rocket launch failure rates;
  • “b. Anticipated areas where the rockets or debris would fall in the
  • event of a failure or malfunction;
  • “c. Which areas, including residential areas on Little Cumberland and Cumberland Island, are at greater risk of harm;
  • “d. Estimates of the scope of fire damage that would be inflicted upon coastal resources in the flight path, such as the densely vegetated Cumberland Island National Seashore and Wilderness Area;
  • “e. Estimates of the scope of damage that would be inflicted upon nearby fisheries, saltmarshes, and waterways like the Satilla River and Intracoastal Waterway; and
  • “f. Estimates of human fatalities in the surrounding areas from such catastrophic failures.”

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.

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