Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett has scheduled a hearing Thursday for Camden County’s challenge to the validity of a special election called for March 8.

Early voting in the single issue election is already underway. By the end of the first two days of early voting on Monday more than 800 voters had cast their ballots, according to Elections Supervisor Shannon Nettles.

The county has about 35,000 registered voters eligible to cast a “yes” or “no” ballot on the question of whether the county should repeal its decision to buy the land for a planned spaceport.

Camden has spent over six years and $10 million to develop a commercial spaceport from which small rockets would launch vertically up to 12 times per year. The Federal Aviation Administration approved a site operator’s license for the county in December, but the license is conditioned on the county purchasing the Union Carbide property where it will be located.

Last month Probate Court Judge Robert C. Sweatt, Jr., approved the election after citizens presented a petition with more than 3,500 signatures requesting the referendum, a seldom-used remedy outlined in the Georgia Constitution.

“Judge Sweatt certified the petition and the voters’ right to a referendum,” said Megan Desrosiers, executive director of One Hundred Miles, which assisted in collecting signatures for the petition. “The County Commissioners represent the petitioners. I don’t understand why they won’t just let their constituents vote.”

But Camden County last week filed a petition in Superior Court to invalidate the results of the vote, calling it a “straw poll.” The county believes the probate court erred in calling for the special election and should not certify the results.

Spaceport proponents see the project as an opportunity for economic development. Opponents doubt it will ever launch a single rocket and could saddle the county with the risk of polluted property.

Probate Court Judge Robert C. Sweatt Jr. has not yet indicated he’ll appear at the hearing, Clerk of Court Joy Lynn Turner wrote in an email. He would ordinarily be represented by Camden County Attorney John Myers. But Myers is representing the county in filing the challenge to Sweatt’s decision.

“He does have the right to represent himself,” Turner wrote, referring to Sweatt. 

Camden residents Paul Harris and James Goodman, the two named petitioners who requested the referendum, are intervenors in Thursday’s hearing.

Mary Landers covers Coastal Georgia’s environment for The Current, a topic she covered for nearly 24 years at the Savannah Morning News, where she began and ended her time there writing about health,...