Feb. 23, 2022

We’re taking a step back this week from the legal wrangling that resulted in an upcoming spaceport referendum in Camden County. Instead we’re examining the context, including the concern over local government owning polluted land and how Camden voters are making the Georgia Constitution work for them.

Empowered citizens

A petition drive brought about Camden’s March 8 special election on the purchase of land for the spaceport. The Georgia Constitution provides this remedy for disgruntled citizens but few have taken advantage of it. In fact, the experts we talked to couldn’t think of any previous example of Georgians trying to reverse a county decision at the ballot box. Anti-spaceport activist Steve Weinkle explained how retracting a decision made by local government is much easier than recalling the elected official who made that decision. Whether this is NIMBYism taken to an extreme or direct democracy in action depends on your point of view. But if it’s successful we may see more of it.

Toxic legacy

Many of the citizens opposed to Spaceport Camden are worried about the known history of pollution on the site, where munitions and herbicides were manufactured for decades. But in an interview with The Current a former worker on the site recalled more spills and contamination than he believes are documented.

Ricky Manning looks over maps of the Union Carbide site, where he once worked. Credit: Mary Landers/The Current

“I don’t want my tax dollars, I don’t want my kids, my grandkids having to pay for all this stuff,” Ricky Manning said. “This place is a mess.”

The county, and some environmental scientists they hired, say the risks are manageable.

Featured creature

If you’re in need of a nature break, the nest at The Landings Bird Cam on Skidaway Island is home this season to a pair of great horned owls. Earlier this week their only egg hatched to make it a family of three. The videos, the views, and the commentary from dedicated volunteers are all top notch. You can watch in real time or cheat and view the highlights on Facebook, like the parents feeding the fluffy owlet. Its diet has been heavily weighted toward rat so far, but that’s bound to change.

Great horned owl incubates her egg in late January Credit: The Landings Bird Cam

Vogtle deja vu

To no one’s surprise, Georgia Power recently announced that the expansion of nuclear power Plant Vogtle will take longer and cost more than estimated. Again. These announcements have been coming pretty regularly for years now. The company is adding about six months to the timeline and about $1 billion to the tab, Stanley Dunlap of the Georgia Recorder reports.

The expansion, the only nuclear being built in the U.S., is now estimated to cost more than $30 billion. Just for the sake of comparison, deepening the Savannah harbor is estimated at $1 billion.

A state lawmaker is proposing rate-payer-backed bonds as a way to save some of those cost. But Georgia Power isn’t thrilled about the idea, as Dave Williams of Capitol Beat reports. Aaron Abramovitz, Georgia Power’s chief financial officer, said securitized bonds have been used in other states only for “unexpected, unusual, extraordinary expenses.”

If you get your electricity from Georgia Power the expenses may already seem extraordinary to you. Georgia Power residential customers began paying for the Vogtle expansion in 2011 and are still charged a nuclear construction cost recovery fee each month. The average residential customer has paid more than $800 for Vogtle and it has not yet produced its first watt.

Hate crimes verdict

Tuesday’s guilty verdict in the federal hate crimes trial of Travis and Greg McMichael and their former neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, who were previously convicted of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, is not environmental news. But it is an important and powerful read, as told by The Current’s Editor-in-Chief Margaret Coker. Consider this detail:

“Each juror was then asked to affirm their vote. Eleven members spoke a firm “yes,” in reply to that question. Yet Juror 150, the foreman of the jury and the sole Black man on the panel, paused before answering, his voice choked. He wiped tears from his eyes as he also replied in the affirmative.”

Read the whole story at www.thecurrentga.org.

If you have feedback, questions, concerns, or just like what you see, let us know at thecurrentga@gmail.com.

Camden referendum on land deal gives county voters a voice

Voters have a rare opportunity to reverse a decision made by county commissioners

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Spaceport site holds toxic legacy

Spaceport purchase would give county land with responsibility for known, unknown toxic sites.

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Southern Company announces new Plant Vogtle delays, higher costs

Southern Company said delay caused by incomplete and missing inspection records. Vogtle’s expansion construction costs are expected to rise to more than $30 billion, up from an initial estimate of $14 billion in 2012.

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State senator pitches lower-cost financing for Plant Vogtle expansion

Senate Bill 421 would authorize Georgia Power to pursue securitized bond financing to recover some of the costs of the Vogtle project as well as what Georgia Power is spending to retire its fleet of coal-burning power plants and clean up the ash ponds surrounding those plants.

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Jurors answer hate-crimes question with guilty verdict

The arc of racial history in Brunswick, Georgia, moved toward justice with unanimous conviction of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder as a hate crime.

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Mary Landers is a reporter for The Current in Coastal Georgia with more than two decades of experience focusing on the environment. Contact her at mary.landers@thecurrentga.org She covered climate and...