A Georgia county has filed a lawsuit seeking to force a company to sell land on which the county has long planned to build a launch pad for commercial rockets.
Coastal Camden County commissioners 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, “would cause the county the loss of the Spaceport project as well as a huge financial loss of over $11 million.
County officials have spent the sum over the past decade to license and build Spaceport Camden, a site to launch satellites into space.
Opponents say the project would pose safety and environmental risks that outweigh the economic benefits. The county held a referendum in March in which a large majority voted to overturn the land deal.
The commissioners chose to disregard the vote, which they say violated Georgia’s constitution. But Union Carbide balked at the county’s efforts to move forward with closing the property. The company said last week the deal was void because it was “repudiated” by voters.
The county filed a civil suit Wednesday in Camden County Superior Court in hopes of keeping the spaceport project alive. The commissioners said the company still had a “contractual obligation to sell the property”.
“The county believes that the real reason Union Carbide repudiated the contract had nothing to do with the referendum, but rather was to allow Union Carbide to make more money on the property than the county had agreed to. to pay,” the commissioners’ statement said. “That’s not a legitimate reason to repudiate a contract.”
Union Carbide did not immediately respond to an email message seeking comment.
The county government in 2015 entered into an option agreement with the company to purchase the land once the county obtained a spaceport operator license from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA granted the license in December. But before county commissioners could close on the ground, opponents forced a referendum on the project by gathering more than 3,500 petition signatures. The project went to a vote in March and 72% voted to block the deal.
The commissioners insisted that the spaceport project would bring economic growth not only through rocket launches, but also by attracting related industries and tourists to the community of 55,000 people on the Georgia-Florida line.
Opponents say building the spaceport on industrial land once used to make pesticides and munitions would pose potential risks.
Critics, including the National Park Service, said the rocket blast shortly after launch could rain flaming debris down on Little Cumberland Island, which has around 40 private homes, and on neighboring Cumberland Island. , a federally protected wilderness area visited by approximately 60,000 tourists each year.
County commissioners hired consultants to study potential threats to the island. Their report concluded that “after the application of routine operational risk mitigation measures, the overall risk of fire on Cumberland Island from a failed rocket launch was found to be so low that he was not credible”.
Meanwhile, county officials are trying to have the Georgia Supreme Court declare the referendum invalid.
Their legal appeal argues that Georgia’s constitution does not allow voters to veto government projects such as the spaceport. The court is due to hear the case on August 23.