FAA releases spaceport environmental impact statement

·6 min read

Jun. 17—Spaceport Camden has cleared its first major hurdle to becoming a reality.

The Federal Aviation Administration released its Environmental Impact Statement on Thursday with the proposed alternative being to issue a launch site operator's license to the county.

David Kyler, director of Center for a Sustainable Coast, expressed disappointment in the decision and predicted a legal challenge ahead.

"There's going to be a lot of wrangling about this for years," he said.

He predicted a rocket will never be launched from the site, even if the county wins a legal battle. Each launch will have to be approved by the FAA.

More than 15,500 people responded during the public comment period regarding the proposed spaceport, with the vast majority voicing opposition to the project.

Camden County has spent more than $10 million so far to land a spaceport. The county has signed an option agreement with the Union Carbide Corp. to purchase its portion of the industrial site, approximately 4,000 acres, with plans to purchase the adjacent Bayer CropScience property. If the county is unable to reach an agreement to buy the Bayer tract, the county plans to secure access to the site through a lease or easement.

The Bayer site has 10 sites the may be potentially contaminated, the FAA report said.

Union Carbide would retain the landfill and buffer area around the landfill. The carved out area retained by the county would require a No Further Action sign off by Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

The proposal is for up to 12 vertical launches a year. The launches would take place in a single 100-degree trajectory over the Intracoastal Waterway.

There are no existing buildings at the site that could be converted to support launch operations. Construction of Spaceport Camden facilities and infrastructure will result in the clearing of 122 acres, taking about 15 months to build a vertical launch facility. Construction won't begin until the the final Record of Decision, which will be released in mid to late July, has been completed and required permits and approvals have been granted.

The vertical launch facility will include a launch pad and its associated structures, storage tanks, handling areas and vehicle and payload facilities. A lightning protection system, deluge water systems and water capture tank, 250-foot water tower, and other launch-related facilities including shops, office facilities and stormwater retention ponds are also part of the launch facility.

A launch control center will be built on 2.4 acres on an upland area in the extreme western portion of the site, located about 2.3 acres from the launch pad and one mile from the Mission Preparation Area.

What type of small rockets would be launched from the site is uncertain until a launch operator signs an agreement with the county. But the representative rocket is a two-stage, liquid oxygen filled launch vehicle capable of carrying a payload of up to 300 pounds into a low Earth orbit.

Launch vehicles will be equipped with a flight termination system designed to destroy the rocket if it does not work as intended or strays off its trajectory. Activation of the system will limit the risk to the public from a malfunctioning vehicle or its debris.

When a rocket approaches Cumberland and Little Cumberland islands, it should be between 70,000 and 100,000 feet in the air and take between six and 10 seconds to cross the island. Most of the vertical ascent would take place "almost directly over the launch pad or within the boundary of the spaceport, the report said.

Mainland-based access restrictions would include areas around access points to the launch site at the end of Harrietts Bluff Road. Residents and guests on Cumberland and Little Cumberland islands, ticketed park visitors, government personnel and other spaceport designated persons would have no restrictions for access at any time.

There will be water-based restrictions prior to launches extending along the trajectory extending 12 nautical miles off shore. Advance notice of waterway closures will be posted at public docks to inform recreational and commercial fishermen and boaters.

There will also be manned and unmanned aerial surveillance outside the restricted areas near Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay and Cumberland Island.

The county acknowledges the possibility of launch failure but determined it has not identified "any significant adverse impacts to biological resources that would result from the proposed action."

A malfunction would "not result in longterm adverse effects to the Georgia coastal barrier resources system" or cause adverse impacts to the coastal environment "that cannot be satisfactorily mitigated," the report said.

Kyler questioned the determination that a malfunction would not have lasting impacts in the region.

"How do you mitigate a forest fire on Cumberland Island satisfactorily?" he asked. "Stuff happens. We don't have to allow stuff to happen."

Longtime critic of the proposed spaceport, Steve Weinkle, called the decision an "abomination."

"The FAA should be ashamed," he said. "We can confirm that the FAA has allowed the Camden County commissioners, lobbyists, and millionaire consultants to perform a Spaceport Camden bait and switch on taxpayers. Without getting into the misleading, contradictory, and intentionally omitted facts of today's Final Environmental Impact Statement, the proof we're being scammed is self-evident. The FAA is poised to approve a Spaceport license for a fictional tiny rocket but the plans remain for the mega-rocket spaceport."

He questioned how the launches would affect tourism, and commercial and recreational fishing.

"Why are all the spaceport checkpoints required on our rivers and Cumberland Island National Seashore if it's safe for people to walk freely on Cumberland's trails and camp in their tents?" he asked. "Why will our waters be closed if it is safe outside the area marked in red? Why will the U.S. Coast Guard stop boaters but island residents can barbecue under the rocket hazard zone?"

He also questioned why the draft EIS didn't include any of the Bayer property.

"It is the site of the manufacturing of Temik pesticide until 2012 and has not been studied, and the FEIS admits that it may not be able to purchase the Bayer property," he said. "Open Records Act responses from Georgia EPD state that neither Camden nor Union Carbide have explored modification of the EPD Environmental Covenant that will be required to construct Spaceport Camden facilities."

Copies of the EIS statement can be read at the following local libraries during regular hours:

—Camden County Public Library at 1410 Georgia Highway 40, Kingsland, GA 31548

—St. Marys Public Library at 100 Herb Bauer Drive, St. Marys, GA 31558,

—Brunswick-Glynn County Library at 208 Gloucester Street, Brunswick, GA 31520,

—St. Simons Island Public Library at 530A Beachview Drive, St. Simons Island, GA 31522.

The EIS report can be read online at faa.gov/space/environmental/nepa_docs/#SCEIS.

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