Sunday, August 7, 2022

Lawsuit seeks to revoke FAA license for Georgia spaceport

Savannah, Ga. ( Associated Press) — Opponents of a proposed launchpad for commercial rockets off the Georgia coast have asked the court to exclude the project’s government license, saying the Federal Aviation Administration failed to properly assess the risks of firing rockets at homes and a tourist. Popular barrier island among

Lawyers for the Southern Environmental Law Center filed suit in US District Court in December seeking to revoke the launch site operator license granted to the planned Spaceport Camden. Coastal Camden County officials have spent the past decade and seeking more than $10 million to build a spaceport to launch satellites into orbit.

The proposed flight path would send rockets to Little Cumberland Island, which has about 40 private homes, and neighboring Cumberland Island, a federally protected wilderness visited by about 60,000 tourists each year. Resident and National Park Service The U.S. has said that they fear explosive misfires and that rain of debris from the fire could cause forest fires near homes and people.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of homeowners and conservation groups, states that the FAA allowed county officials to mitigate potential security risks by basing their license application on a hypothetical rocket “that doesn’t exist” and from current commercial rockets. its small. It says the FAA did not follow its policies that call for keeping such “unproven” rockets at a high level.

“The FAA’s decision to license a site where rockets will launch to people, homes, and Cumberland Island National Seashore … is contrary to agency rules for licensing launch sites and the history of the United States commercial space program.” Unprecedented in the U.S.,” said the lawsuit, filed May 19 in the District of Columbia.

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The lawsuit also claims that a top FAA official told Spaceport Camden’s opponents privately in March 2019 that he doubted the project would be successful.

The document says a group of homeowners from the Little Cumberland Island home traveled to Washington to meet with FAA officials, including Wayne Monteith, who was at the time the agency’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation. The lawsuit says that Monteith told the group that “Spaceport Camden was not a commercially viable launch site and that ‘some spaceports just want to sell hats and T-shirts’.”

FAA spokesman Steve Kulm said Thursday that the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Spaceport Camden project spokesman John Simpson did not immediately respond to an email message.

Monteith no longer works for the FAA and is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Reached by phone, Monteith’s wife said he was traveling on Thursday. He did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

In Camden County, a community of 55,000 people on the Georgia-Florida line, commissioners have long argued that a spaceport would bring economic growth not only from rocket launches, but also by attracting related industries and tourists.

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Opponents say plans to build a spaceport on an industrial plot previously used to manufacture pesticides and weapons pose potential environmental and safety hazards that outweigh any economic benefits.

The FAA’s final environmental impact report at Spaceport Camden concluded that county officials had submitted an “adequate and appropriate” plan for dealing with fires and other emergencies arising from rocket launches.

However, the FAA noted that when it granted the county a license to operate a spaceport in December that a separate and more comprehensive review would be required before any rocket could be launched. The agency stressed in a letter that “no results are guaranteed.”

In March, opponents forced a referendum. After collecting more than 3,500 petition signatures from registered voters on the project saying they want the spaceport on the ballot.

The result was a major defeat for the spaceport. The final tally showed that 72% of voters were in favor of stalling the project, rejecting the commissioners’ earlier decision to buy land for the spaceport.

County officials have given no indication that they plan to abandon the spaceport. Just days after the referendum, he voted to proceed with buying the property. for the project. Meanwhile, a legal case is pending with commissioners in Georgia that seeks to declare the referendum invalid.

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