Judge: Georgia county can move ahead on land for spaceport

WOODBINE, Ga. (AP) — A judge has denied a request to stop a county from buying land for a planned spaceport near the Georgia coast, dealing the latest blow to opponents of the project.

In an order Thursday, Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett denied the request from opponents to restrain Camden County from closing on the land deal until a referendum that would let voters weigh in.

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The judge said the opponents waited until the last minute for their latest legal move, when they had known since 2015 that county commissioners planned to buy the property.

“Plaintiffs could have acted sooner but chose not to, and certainly did not act at their first opportunity,” Scarlett wrote in the order.

The ruling now allows the county to close on the property, barring unforeseen circumstances.

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Officials in the county of 55,000 at the Georgia-Florida line have spent years pursuing Spaceport Camden, calling it a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity that would boost the economy not only by launching satellites into orbit, but also by luring supporting industries and tourists.

Opponents say there’s no guarantee the project will deliver economic growth, and the proposed location poses threats to nearby barrier islands. Critics, including the National Park Service, say the county’s plan to launch small rockets over two barrier islands poses a risk of explosive misfires that could rain fiery debris onto Cumberland Island, a federally protected wilderness visited by about 60,000 campers and tourists each year.

Despite those concerns, the Federal Aviation Administration granted the county a license Dec. 20 to build and operate what would be the nation’s 13th commercial spaceport. The FAA noted in a letter that further reviews and a separate license would be needed before the spaceport could launch rockets — and said there’s no guarantee launches would be approved.

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