An illustration of the proposed Camden Spaceport site

An illustration of the proposed Camden Spaceport site — a project that might be dead after a Georgia Supreme Court ruling.

Credit: Spaceport Camden

ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling verifying the validity of a voter referendum in Camden County last March that rejected plans to build a commercial spaceport.

In the referendum, Camden voters soundly defeated the county’s plan to purchase land for the proposed Spaceport Camden. The county, which had gone to probate court before the referendum to try to block it, appealed to the state Supreme Court after the vote.

In oral arguments before the justices last October, lawyers for Camden County argued the Georgia Constitution’s Home Rule Paragraph does not allow local voters to veto a county commission’s resolution after the fact.

Lawyers for the project’s opponents, registered voters who gathered petition signatures to force the referendum, countered that the vote was valid under a plain reading of Home Rule.

In Tuesday’s unanimous ruling, the state Supreme Court agreed with Spaceport Camden’s opponents, declaring that the county had no legal authority to try to block the referendum.

“The Home Rule Paragraph makes no provision authorizing a county, or any other party, to file a caveat, or any other form of opposition, to an electors’ petition,” Justice Carla Wong McMillian wrote for the court.

“With respect to challenging an election, the statute governing contests to elections … limits the right to contest elections to ‘electors.’ Because the county is not an elector, it would not be authorized to contest the outcome of the special election.”

Camden County’s political leaders have sought to build a spaceport for years, claiming it would bring jobs and economic development to southeast Georgia. The county has spent $12 million pursuing the project.

Opponents say firing small rockets from Spaceport Camden over populated areas of Little Cumberland Island, just off the coast, would pose a major safety risk.

The National Park Service — which operates the Cumberland Island National Seashore — and environmental organizations worried about the spaceport’s impact on a fragile coastal ecosystem have also expressed reservations about the project. 

Tuesday’s ruling didn’t bring to an end to the litigation surrounding Spaceport Camden. A federal lawsuit challenging the Federal Aviation Administration’s issuance of a launch permit in December 2021 remains pending.

Opponents of Spaceport Camden also have filed a lawsuit in Camden County Court seeking the release of public records concerning the project.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.