The state of Georgia has given the green light to plans to build a commercial spaceport in southeastern Georgia.
In a letter dated Thursday, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources agreed with officials from Camden County that no insurmountable environmental concerns stand in the way of the Federal Aviation Administration issuing an operator license for Spaceport Camden.
The go-ahead from the DNR marks a major step toward making the project a reality.
“With DNR’s concurrence and the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement by the FAA, regulators at all levels of government have given Spaceport Camden a thorough review and found it consistent with state and federal environmental regulations,” Camden County Commission Chairman Gary Blount said Friday.
“For over 50 years, nature and space activities have coexisted at other spaceports. We aim for that same type harmonious relationship at Spaceport Camden! We look forward to a final decision from the FAA on our application later this month.”
Supporters are counting on Spaceport Camden to create up to 2,000 jobs and help convince the next generation of aerospace engineers, many of whom graduate from Georgia Tech, to stay in Georgia. The project has the backing of Gov. Brian Kemp and the state’s congressional delegation.
The DNR letter cited a series of steps Camden County has agreed to take to minimize environmental damage associated with commercial satellite launches. For one thing, the state agency cited the county’s decision to launch only small rockets from the site rather than medium-to-large rockets, which will reduce the “debris dispersion radius” and decrease the area to be closed to the public before and during launches.
The county also agreed to use “turtle-friendly” lighting to avoid disturbing nesting sea turtles, work with the DNR to limit launches during bird-nesting season and limit closings of public waterways during weekends and holidays, and during organized fishing tournaments.
Such provisions don’t go nearly far enough, said Dick Parker, one of a group of property owners on nearby Little Cumberland Island who oppose Spaceport Camden.
“Georgia DNR is giving Spaceport Camden permission to use more than 2,700 pristine acres of state-owned salt marsh, tidal creeks, and the Satilla River for debris dispersion, allowing exploding rockets and fuel to fall into the marsh, creeks, and river,” he said. “It’s hardly different from letting someone back a dump truck up to the marsh and empty their trash.”
Parker also pointed to the potential rocket-failure rate of up to 20% Camden County officials projected in their license application.
“With plans for 12 launches per year, that’s more than two failures every year,” he said. “Hundreds of gallons of fuel and hundreds of rocket parts will penetrate the soft marsh mud and pollute the tidal creeks with each failure.”