Georgia Supreme Court Denies Camden County Request for Emergency Relief on Spaceport Vote Certification

Spaceport Camden launch complex (Credit: Camden County)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Georgia Supreme Court denied a request from Camden County for emergency relief to prevent the certification of a referendum in which residents voted overwhelmingly to rescind the county’s purchase of 4,000 acres from Union Carbide for the construction of Spaceport Camden.

The decision will allow Camden County Probate Judge Robert C. Sweatt Jr. to certify the results of the March 8 referendum in which 72 percent of voters cast ballots against the purchase of the property. The Current reports that this is not the end of the county’s efforts to have the referendum voided as being illegal under the Georgia constitution.

While the court rejected the request for emergency relief, that’s not necessarily the end of the county’s case. The court also affirmed that the underlying case does fall under its jurisdiction because it addresses issues involving unsettled principles of constitutional law.

And Camden on Tuesday filed a motion in the state Supreme Court of intent to appeal. The county is represented by its county attorney plus three attorneys from the Atlanta-based law firm Hall Booth Smith. Because he is a constitutional officer, the county is also required to pay for the Probate Judge’s attorney.

Opponents of the spaceport gathered enough signatures from residents to hold a referendum as stipulated under the state’s constitution. However, the county has argued that the referendum is not allowed under the constitution. Last Friday, a lower court rejected a motion by the county to invalidate the referendum.

Following the court setback, the Camden County Board of Commissioners held a special meeting during which it appointed five members to the previously dormant Spaceport Camden Authority. Commissioners refused to answer when asked by a resident whether the board planned to transfer responsibility for purchasing the land to the authority should the vote go against the project.

Georgia state Rep. Steven Sainz, whose district includes Camden County, said he is working on legislation to make sure Camden County doesn’t use the spaceport authority to make an end run around voters.

Camden County has spent around $10 million to develop the spaceport to host small satellite launch vehicles. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a license for the spaceport.

Supporters have argued the spaceport will create high-tech jobs and expand the county’s tax base. Opponents say the benefits of the facility have been over sold. They also argue that launches will endanger visitors to Cumberland Island National Seashore as well as private residences along the flight path.