This artist’s sketch provided by Spaceport Camden shows the proposed Spaceport Camden launch pad complex in Camden County, Georgia. A Georgia county’s plan to build a launch pad for commercial rockets is presented to voters in a referendum forced by opponents of the plan. The special election on Tuesday March 8, 2022 in the coastal county of Camden gives voters the chance to block county commissioners from buying 4,000 acres of land for the future Spaceport Camden.

Spaceport Camden via AP, file

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Georgia’s highest court on Thursday declined to interfere with election officials finalizing the results of a referendum in which voters overwhelmingly rejected plans to buy land for a rocket launch pad.

The Georgia Supreme Court order denied an emergency motion by county commissioners seeking to temporarily suspend certification for Tuesday’s election, which seeks to prevent the commissioners from completing the purchase of 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares ) for a commercial spaceport.

Coastal Camden County on the Georgia-Florida line spent a decade and $10.3 million building Spaceport Camden, only to see voters scrap the project by 72%, a nearly 3-to-3 margin. 1. The referendum was forced by opponents who say the spaceport would pose serious environmental and safety risks that outweigh any economic benefit.

Camden County commissioners showed no signs of abandoning the project. They were still reviewing the court order Thursday afternoon and had no immediate comment, said John Simpson, spokesman for the spaceport project.

Spaceport critic John Goodman said it was time for the commissioners to “finally shut it down, no more legal challenges.”

“The will of the people must be clear,” said Goodman, an elected councilor for the town of St. Marys in Camden County. “If they are the least bit interested in the will of the people, what else can they do? »

The referendum results are expected to be certified by Friday, Camden County Elections Supervisor Shannon Nettles said.

Meanwhile, a Georgia lawmaker who represents Camden County said Thursday he would seek to quickly dissolve a Camden Spaceport Authority he helped create through state law in 2019. State Republican Steven Sainz said he wanted to make sure county commissioners don’t try to circumvent voters’ wishes by using the power to buy the spaceport land.

“I feel like there’s no other way for me to represent my constituents if I don’t act on a 72% vote,” said Sainz, who plans to present a draft legislation in the legislature next week to end the authority. “I hope the county commission feels the same.”

Camden County officials have long insisted the spaceport will bring economic growth not only through rocket launches, but also by attracting related industries as well as tourists to the community of 55,000 people.

Critics including the National Park Service said the rocket blast after launch could rain flaming debris down on Little Cumberland Island, which has about 40 private homes, and neighboring Cumberland Island, a federally protected wilderness area visited by approximately 60,000 tourists each year.

After years of study and review, the Federal Aviation Administration in December granted Camden County a license to build and operate a spaceport that would be the 13th in the United States.

But before the commissioners could conclude the purchase of the property, a judge ordered that the land agreement be submitted to voters. Opponents collected more than 3,500 petition signatures from registered voters to put the issue on the ballot.

Camden County attorneys went to court to ask that the election be declared invalid. They argue that Georgia’s constitution does not allow voters to veto the spaceport project by calling a referendum. The state Supreme Court denied the commissioners’ request to delay certification of the vote until the legal battle is resolved.

Last Friday, the commissioners called a special meeting to appoint board members for the Camden Spaceport Authority, which under state law has the power to purchase property.

Steve Howard, the Camden County Government Administrator, declined to comment on Monday when asked if the commissioners intended for the Spaceport Authority to purchase land for the project if the referendum prevented the commissioners to make the purchase.

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