Camden County commissioners are taking Union Carbide to court in an effort to force the company to sell land for a planned spaceport in Georgia. The Associated Press reports:
Commissioners in coastal Camden County said in a statement Thursday that Union Carbide Co.’s refusal to sell the 4,000 acre (1,600 hectare) property, if allowed to stand, “will cause the County the loss of the Spaceport Project as well as an enormous financial loss in excess of $11 million.”
County officials have spent that sum over the past decade seeking to license and build Spaceport Camden, a site for launching satellites into space. Opponents say the project would pose safety and environmental risks that outweigh any economic benefits. The county held a referendum in March in which a large majority voted to kill the land deal.
Commissioners opted to disregard the vote, which they contend violated Georgia’s constitution. But Union Carbide balked at the county’s efforts to move forward with closing on the property. The company said last week that the deal was off because it had been “repudiated” by voters.
The county filed a civil suit Wednesday in Camden County Superior Court in hopes of keeping the spaceport project alive. Commissioners said the company still has a “contractual obligation to sell the property.”
Spaceport Camden would host small-satellite launches.
Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) says there is no longer a deal to sell 4,000 acres to Georgia’s Camden County for a spaceport after voters overwhelming rejected the project. But, the county disagrees. The Associated Pressreports:
“As a result, there is no longer an Option Agreement in existence between the County and UCC, and UCC does not intend to convey the property to the County pursuant to the prior Option Agreement,” said the statement, emailed to The Associated Press by Union Carbide spokesman Tomm Sprick.
Steve Howard, Camden County’s government administrator, provided a statement from the county’s lawyers insisting the deal isn’t over.
“Union Carbide most certainly has a contract with Camden,” the statement said. “The County has indicated that it is ready, willing and able to close. We expect Union Carbide to honor its contractual commitments.”
Camden County received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last December to launch small satellite from the planned spaceport site. Opponents, who are concerned about safety and skeptical about the projected economic benefits, gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on the project. Seventy-two percent of votes cast were opposed to the project.
County officials ignored the vote and continued to pursue the project. The county is attempting to have the referendum declared invalid by the Georgia Supreme Court. A hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 23.
With the fate of Spaceport Camden up in the air in a Tuesday referendum, the Camden County Board of Commissioners took action on late Friday afternoon that could allow it to invalidate a vote against purchasing the land for the facility.
Camden County Board of Commissioners appointed five members to the previously vacant Spaceport Camden Authority during a special meeting that started at 4:30 p.m. EST. The members include: County Commission Chairman Gary Blount, Commissioner Chuck Clark, former Commissioner David Rainer, retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert S. Dickman and businessman C.B. Yadav.
The Currentexplains what the commissioners might be up to:
Citizens who attended the Friday meeting voiced their concern that the commission is planning an end run around their vote by having the Spaceport Authority purchase the land. The option contract the county signed with Union Carbide allows the county to transfer the option with the consent of Union Carbide.
In public comment during the meeting, resident and spaceport critic Steve Weinkle asked the commissioners if the purpose of the appointments was to do just that.
They declined to answer.
“If they don’t wish to answer that question, then we can assume the worst,” Weinkle said.
The meeting came on the same day that a judge rejected the county’s attempt to invalidate the referendum as violating the Georgia constitution. The vote was triggered when opponents submitted signatures of 10 percent of active county voters as required under the state constitution.
Rep. Steven Sainz, who represents Camden County in the Georgia legislature, posted a video on Facebook saying this was not the purpose of the spaceport authority when he co-authored legislation that created it. The authority was created to work with companies that decided to launch from the spaceport. To date, the county has not announced any tenants.
Supporters of the spaceport say it will bring high tech jobs and tax revenues to the county. Opponents claim the benefits have been overstated, and that visitors to Cumberland Island National Seashore and private homeowners in the area would be at risk from launch failures.
The fate of Spaceport Camden in Georgia hangs in the balance as early voting continues on a March 8 referendum on whether to invalidate Camden County’s decision to buy 4,000 acres of land for the facility from Union Carbide. The Current reports that almost 2,000 residents had cast their ballots in early voting as of Friday.
On Friday, Superior Court Steven Scarlett rejected an appeal by Camden County to invalidate the referendum on the grounds that it violates the Georgia constitution. Scarlett authorized the county to file an appeal of his order.
The county argued that Probate Court Judge Robert Sweatt Jr. had misinterpreted the constitution when he ordered the referendum last month. Opponents of the project trigged the vote after submitting a petition signed by more than 3,500 active voters.
Camden County has spent $10 million in its effort to build the spaceport to host small satellite launch vehicles. Supporters argue it will bring high-tech jobs to the county and bolster local tax revenues.
Opponents argue the county has over stated the benefits of the spaceport. They also say rocket launches will endanger visitors to Cumberland Island National Seashore as well as private residences along the launch trajectory.
The fate of Spaceport Camden in Georgia will be decided in a special election on March 8, The Currentreports.
Opponents of the spaceport gathered the signatures of more than 10 percent of the county’s registered voters to put the issue to a vote. Probate Judge Robert C. Sweatt Jr. issued an order verifying the referendum after the court determined that 3,516 valid voter signatures had been submitted. The requirement was 3,482 valid signatures.
Voters will be asked whether they want to repeal resolutions passed by the Camden County Board of Commissioners authorizing the purchase of property from Union Carbide Corporation that will be used for the spaceport.
Camden County has spent about $10 million in its effort to build a spaceport where small-satellite boosters would be launched a dozen times per year.
Supporters say the spaceport will bright much needed investment and jobs to the county. Opponents have labeled the project as an expensive boondoggle. Rockets would also fly over Cumberland Island National Seashore, which is open to the public. Homeowners along the route also worry about rockets damaging or destroying their residences.
Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett has denied a request from opponents of Spaceport Camden to restrain Camden County from purchasing land for the Georgia facility from Union Carbide. WABE radio reports:
A Superior Court judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing Camden County from purchases a 4,000 acres tract from Union Carbide to construct Spaceport Camden.
The order also scheduled an interlocutory hearing on a permanent restraining order for the purchase for 9:30 a.m. Jan. 5. Paul Harris and St. Marys council member James Goodman, who oppose the spaceport project as a waste of money, requested the restraining order on behalf of themselves and about 4,000 other county voters who signed a petition seeking a referendum on the purchase of the property.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued Spaceport Camden a site operator’s license Monday. But without the property the project is defunct.
The county’s option to buy the land from Union Carbide expires Jan. 13 unless it’s extended, as it has been previously. The probate court has 90 days from the filing of the signed petitions on Dec. 14 to vet the signatures and hold a special election. Petitioners are seeking to delay the purchase until the vote can take place.
The spaceport is being designed to support small satellite launch vehicles.