SELC sues FAA for withholding Spaceport safety assessments

One of many concerns around Spaceport Camden is that the proposed flight patterns would allow rockets to launch over the Cumberland Island National Seashore, shown here, and other sensitive ecological areas. (© Charles Shoffner)

As a risky proposal advances to build a spaceport along the Georgia coast, Federal Aviation Administration officials have been withholding critical safety information so today SELC filed suit. The challenge holds the Federal Aviation Administration accountable for refusing to disclose important information about the risks of harm to human life and property around the spaceport proposed in Camden County.

After submitting several requests to FAA that have gone unanswered, SELC filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia citing the federal agency’s failure to provide documents for the proposed project as required under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.

Ensuring the public has all of the information about any major project is critically important, especially when we’re talking about the potential for loss of life and significant damage to personal property,” said Senior Attorney Brian Gist. “It would be incredibly rash for Camden County and the FAA to move ahead without fully disclosing the risks of this project to the public.”

Among the information requested is a risk analysis that estimates the number of human deaths that could potentially occur in the event that a rocket explodes on the launch pad or in the air. According to FAA’s own assessment, launch failures at Spaceport Camden could be “in the 2.5 to 6 percent range.” This means that, if Spaceport Camden estimates 12 launches per year, at least one rocket launch is expected to fail every two years—the impacts and the extent of which are still unknown.

This suit stems from Camden County’s efforts to secure a license from the FAA to construct and operate a private spaceport on the southern end of the Georgia coast. If built and used as planned, the spaceport would launch private spacecraft from an 11,000-acre site along the Satilla River. Rockets would launch directly over populated areas, including private residences on Little Cumberland Island, the Intracoastal Waterway, and Cumberland Island National Seashore.

SELC initially submitted comments on the project in January 2016 on behalf of One Hundred Miles and Satilla Riverkeeper, outlining concerns about an increase in air and noise pollution, the destruction of wetlands and compromised water quality, and safety concerns in the case of an accident.  

More recently, SELC weighed in at the FAA criticizing the agency’s draft environmental impact statement for failing to properly evaluate the project’s numerous risks and failing to address some impacts at all, contrary to the requirements of federal law.

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