This artist’s sketch provided by Spaceport Camden shows the launch pad complex for the Spaceport Camden project in Camden County, Georgia.

Spaceport Camden via AP, file

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

In an order Thursday, Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett denied opponents’ request to block Camden County from completing the land deal until a referendum that would allow voters to weigh in.

The judge said opponents waited until the last minute for their final legal decision, despite knowing since 2015 that county commissioners were planning to buy the property.

“The plaintiffs could have acted sooner but chose not to, and certainly did not act at the earliest opportunity,” Scarlett wrote in the order.

The decision now allows the county to close the property barring unforeseen circumstances.

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

Opponents say there is no guarantee the project will generate economic growth and the proposed location poses a threat to nearby barrier islands. Critics, including the National Park Service, say the county’s plan to launch small rockets over two barrier islands poses the risk of explosive misfires that could rain flaming debris onto Cumberland Island, a federally protected wilderness visited by approximately 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 required before the spaceport could launch rockets – and said there was no guarantee the launches would be approved.

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