Federal regulators again pushed back the timeline on Spaceport Camden Monday, extending by a month to Dec. 3 the deadline to make the final decision before issuing a launch site operator license.

“The Federal Aviation Administration is announcing a delay in the issuance of the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Spaceport Camden project,” FAA Spokesman Steven Kulm wrote in an email. “The FAA planned to issue the ROD on November 3, 2021; however, due to ongoing consultation efforts the FAA now plans to issue the ROD by December 15, 2021.

As in October, the FAA declined to name the consulting parties, saying only “FAA is continuing its consultation efforts with all participating federal and state agencies and other stakeholders.”

Spaceport Camden spokesman John Simpson, however, said the consultations appear to be with Little Cumberland Island homeowners and The National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Spaceport site
Rendering of the potential site of Spaceport Camden Credit: Spaceport Camden

Simpson, of the lobbying and public relations firm Capitol Resources LLC, downplayed concern about the delay.

“Late last week, due to revisions to the Programmatic Agreement which the FAA circulated, (the last document needed for a Spaceport Camden decision) certain parties who are not required to sign the Agreement asked for another meeting to review the changes,” Simpson wrote in an email. “We understand that FAA plans to accommodate that request and will be scheduling that meeting soon. This additional meeting has delayed the release of the ROD and resulted in the FAA pushing back its time table. However, we are still optimistic about a favorable decision on Spaceport Camden.”

The Camden County-led project aims to launch small rockets from a former industrial site on the marsh in the unincorporated county. The commercial rockets would lift off from the mainland and soar over nearby Cumberland Island National Seashore. The National Park Service, park visitors and island residents, among others, object to this plan.

After a public outcry over the draft Environmental Impact Statement, Camden altered its application. Instead of the medium-sized rockets cited in the original plans, the county switched to seeking an operator license for a launch site for small rockets.

But the FAA issued the final EIS in June 2021 without directly reexamining the risk posed by the altered plan.

“Spaceport Camden’s Final EIS fails to properly consider the enormous risks the project poses to Cumberland Island and the public,” said Brian Gist, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The FAA should use these ongoing conversations with other agencies to remedy these shortcomings, to ensure that this risky project is properly evaluated, and to disclose those risks to the public as the law requires.”

Along with safety and environmental concerns, the National Park Service and Little Cumberland Island residents are worried about historic properties like the First African Baptist Church on Cumberland Island where John F. Kennedy Jr. got married in 1996.

“They've been asking questions about why the FAA doesn't think there will be effects on historic properties on Cumberland and Little Cumberland Island,” Gist said.

Camden resident Steve Weinkle, a space enthusiast who nevertheless thinks his county is the wrong place for a launch facility, said the project's problems have been snowballing from the start.

“The FAA basically made fundamental mistakes all the way through, and they let it go too far,” said Weinkle who runs the Facebook page Taxpayers against Spaceport Camden.” “They should have told Camden no when they did their pre-application consultation, because this spaceport launches over people and Cumberland Island, and that on its face was a big “Whoa, this is the wrong place for a spaceport. That's what we've been fighting all along. But they didn't notice. They didn't even visit Cumberland Island for I think three years. And then by that time, they had already issued the draft EIS.”

Mary Landers is a reporter for Stanley R. Boxer in Coastal Georgia with more than two decades of experience focusing on the environment. Contact her at mary.landers@stanleyrboxer.com She covered climate and...