James Goodman says Camden County is trying to intimidate him, but it’s not working.
Goodman, a St. Marys council member, along with fellow Camden resident Paul Harris, filed a petition in December with the probate court to force a county-wide referendum on the purchase of land for the planned spaceport. They also requested that the Superior Court prevent the county from closing on the purchase before the petition could be vetted.
Now the county wants the two men to post a $20 million bond if a court grants a further delay of the purchase of the spaceport property from Union Carbide. That figure is about twice the $10.3 million the county has spent over the last six years to develop the spaceport.
“This is an intimidation tactic,” said Goodman, a retired healthcare administrator. “It’s designed to try to discourage myself and Paul and the other people involved in the initiatives to simply ask them to let us have a say in how our tax money is spent. Now, I’ve never heard of it before. To explain it in terms other than to say it’s desperation is impossible.”
A hearing on the matters of the appeal and the bond is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Feb. 8 in the Camden County Courthouse. By late afternoon Monday, attorneys for Goodman and Harris had not yet filed a response.
Camden Elections Supervisor Shannon Nettles is still vetting signatures to determine if enough qualified voters — 10 percent of those registered — have signed to trigger the referendum, as provided for in the Georgia Constitution. She has until Feb. 12 to complete the count. Judge Stephen Scarlett denied the injunction on Jan. 20 but Goodman and Harris immediately appealed.
In his motion for the security bond, Camden Attorney John Myers argues a delay could injure the county and its taxpayers if the appeal stretches beyond the deadline for the current purchase option agreement, the details of which are hidden from the public.
Either a lengthy delay “kills the deal,” resulting in the loss of the $10.3 million spent so far, or the county may have to pay “potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars” to keep the option agreement open, he wrote.
In a January injunction hearing, the county downplayed the spaceport expenditures, with Myers noting they amounted to “about two cents of every tax dollar” spent since 2014.
The Camden County Commission initially signed a purchase option agreement with Union Carbide in 2015 and has extended it repeatedly, most recently in January. The county has not made the terms of the extension public.
A third option Myers’ motion didn’t contemplate is a referendum in which voters reject the purchase. If a referendum is warranted by the petition, it would have to be held by March 14. A simple majority would repeal the purchase agreement.
The county-led spaceport project aims to launch small rockets from a polluted former industrial site. The small commercial rockets would lift off from the marsh-front site on the mainland and soar over nearby Cumberland Island National Seashore, a concern for visitors to the national park and residents alike.
Residents opposed to the spaceport project consider it a boondoggle. County officials say it will provide a needed economic boost.
The Federal Aviation Administration granted Spaceport Camden a launch site operator’s license in December. A separate launch license is required for each rocket launch. A dozen other spaceports are already licensed around the U.S., but none of them launch rockets vertically over nearby residents.
The county did not respond to a request for comment. But Goodman had plenty to say.
“I want to thank (Myers) personally, for threatening to sue someone over trying to simply exercise a constitutional right,” Goodman said. “That’s rich. That’s as rich as six feet up a bull’s rear end.”
Goodman was initially a spaceport supporter. But the more he learned about the specifics the warier he became. The county’s latest move against him isn’t helping its cause, he said.
“It has unleashed a torrent of people who have been very quiet about it, or who have been nominally supportive (of the opposition), now that are upset,” Goodman said. “There has been no one who has said to me, ‘we don’t want you doing this.’ “