By a nearly 3 to 1 margin on Tuesday, Camden County voters told the County Commission to pull out of its option contract to buy land for a planned spaceport.
The unofficial results, with all 14 precincts counted, was 4,168 opposed to the land purchase and 1,611 in favor.
The landslide vote is not the end of the story, though, as Camden County continues to try to thwart the referendum through the courts.
As voters went to the polls Tuesday, County Attorney John Myers with help from the Atlanta-based law firm Hall Booth Smith filed an appeal to the Court of Appeals of Georgia. The county is also requesting the local Probate Judge Robert Sweatt be prohibited from certifying the results of the election until the appeal can be heard.
Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett last week denied Camden County the relief it sought to invalidate the referendum but also authorized an appeal of his order, noting that a vote of this kind may be unprecedented in Georgia.
The Court of Appeals transferred the appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Camden has spent seven years and over $10 million to develop a spaceport to launch up to 12 small commercial rockets per year from a 4,000-acre former munitions and pesticide manufacturing site currently owned by Union Carbide. The county promises the venture will create economic opportunity and bring jobs. Opponents say its proposed flight path over residential property plus the industrial contamination of the Union Carbide property make the project too risky for taxpayers. They sought to stop the land purchase and ultimately the whole project with Tuesday’s referendum. Citizens forced the vote by collecting a sufficient number of signatures, as outlined in the Georgia Constitution.
Voters cast almost 2,500 ballots in early and absentee voting. On Tuesday turnout was relatively steady at some polling places including Woodbine City Hall, where seven voters waited in line to use four machines at lunchtime.
By 1 p.m. there, 140 people had voted. Among them were Kim and Billy Griner.
“I vote yes to vote no (to spaceport),” Kim Griner said. “I just think there’s been no transparency in the entire process. I don’t understand if it’s all above-board why is there no transparency?”
“Why would the commission sue to stop our vote from counting?” Billy Griner added.
Like the Griners, many voters were frustrated by the convoluted language of the referendum. The question to voters was if they wanted to repeal a county commission resolution to buy land for the spaceport. As Kim Griner indicated, a “yes” vote meant “no” to the spaceport.
But many voters also seemed well-versed in the issue.
At the Harbor Worship Center in West Kingsland, Terry and Bernice Brown said they voted “no.” They likened the opportunity from a new spaceport to that available from nearby Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, the home of Trident nuclear powered submarines and a local economic driver.
“If we had voted on the sub base it wouldn’t be there,” Terry Brown said.
At the same polling place, Tom Laxton shared a nuanced view.
“I would like to have the technology sharing for the school kids,” he said. “That’s a highlight. But having it have to travel across the islands I had to vote against it.”
At the turnoff to the Harrietts Bluff polling place, nearby residents who opposed the land purchase set up “Vote yes” posters and picnicked under a canopy. As a kind of informal exit poll they looked for a thumbs up from drivers exiting the First Baptist Church.
One of the organizers, Ben Goff, positioned his refurbished VW bug where it could show off a poster.
“I got hooked against the spaceport when I read Charles Seabrook’s ‘The World of the Saltmarsh,'” he said.
The proposed spaceport site is a former industrial site that sits on the marsh.
Correction: Camden opened 12 polling places for its 14 voting precincts Tuesday. An earlier photo caption indicated the wrong number of polling places.