CAMDEN COUNTY, Ga. – Camden County voters on Tuesday headed to the polls to determine the future of a planned spaceport.
As of 8:38 p.m., with 7 of 14 precincts reporting, the vote was 73.39% yes and 26.61% no.
As the results trickled in, News4JAX learned Jim Goodman, one of the project’s most vocal opponents who sued the county over the project, said he intends to run against 4th District Commission Chair Gary Blount. Spaceport opponent Steve Weinkle also said he plans to run for the District 2 commission seat against Chuck Clark. Both Goodman and Weinkle will run as Republicans.
Voters were asked to answer a single question, and it centers on whether they believe the county’s power to purchase the launch site should be repealed. The question reads on the ballot:
“Shall the resolutions of the Board of Commissioners of Camden County, Georgia authorizing the Option Contract with Union Carbide Corporation and Camden County’s right and option to purchase the property described therein be repealed.”
The referendum would be a big setback to the Spaceport Camden project. If the referendum passes, it would remove the commissioner’s power to spend the money to buy that swath of land from the chemical company Union Carbide.
A “yes” vote would mean a voter wants it repealed. A “no” vote means they support the county’s purchase.
The referendum was called after a judge ruled last month that there were enough signatures on a petition to put this issue before voters.
There was strong opposition and even a lawsuit to try to block this sale and the project at large.
Opponents of the spaceport say the land sale is too big of a cost for a project that’s still far from a done deal.
Even though the Federal Aviation Administration in December granted the spaceport a license that would allow for 12 launches a year, Camden County needs to secure the site and there are many more regulatory hurdles that will have to be cleared before anything could lift off.
“It’s not the time to spend that much money on that, just that piece of land, and have no really, you know, firm commitment,” said Jim Godly, who supports the referendum to block the spaceport land sale.
Camden County resident Steve Weinkle was spotted Monday waving signs and standing in front of a vehicle billboard urging his fellow residents to vote “yes” to derail the purchase.
“About 6 to 1 cars react in some positive way,” Weinkle said. “Either honking their horns, or give us a thumbs up, or stopping and opening their window to give us ‘atta boys’ for the effort we’re putting out.”
Weinkle has followed the developments for years and says the millions of dollars the county has already spent for the launchpad is wasted spending. The 4,000-acre location the county looking to build the launch site on is along the Cumberland Island National Seashore. It was one of the sites considered for the Apollo program before Florida was selected instead. Weinkle believes the proposed location is a safety risk.
“This would be the first spaceport where rockets are launched over people living in their private homes just 5 miles down range,” Weinkle said. “And the first time they would be launched over an active national seashore.”
Spaceport supporters, though, say this project will keep Camden County and the state of Georgia firmly in the commercial space market.
They say there will be a huge economic benefit with all the businesses, development and tourism the spaceport would bring.
“I would love to see a spaceport here. I think be fantastic. How exciting that imagine anything more exciting than that,” said James Walker, who opposes the referendum to block the spaceport land sale.
Steve Howard is county administrator and says Spaceport Camden would launch more than rockets. He says it would bring research, development, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs and manufacturing that would give Georgia a long-term competitive edge.
“I always say there’s always a natural tendency for people to say why things can’t work,” Howard said. “Those are game-changers. Those are catalyst moments. And currently, you know, this is just an idle asset. What an opportunity to lift this whole coast and do some amazing things. And create these high-tech jobs right here for rural Georgia.”
Polls across the county closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The Camden County supervisor of elections says 2,500 people cast their ballots during early voting.
Howard and Weinkle will pay close attention to the results.
“It is viewed by people who are viewed by people who are fed up with government,” Weinkle said. “And government ignoring their constituents.”
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity,” Howard said. “And again, it’s never been about just the rocket launching, it’s about everything else around it.”
It would only take a simple majority, 51%, to block the purchase. If not, it can go through, and the spaceport could see up to 12 launches a year.