KINGSLAND — A federal agency on Monday granted a license for a launchpad that would fly commercial rockets from coastal Georgia.
The Federal Aviation Administration's approval of a launch site operator license for Spaceport Camden marks a significant milestone for the Georgia space project, though many reviews and permits are needed before any rockets can actually launch.
A Camden County leader said Monday that the project propels Georgia into the space race that's seen civilians and celebrities flown into space in recent months.
"This once in a generation opportunity will provide a new frontier of economic prosperity for Camden, the region and the state of Georgia," Steve Howard, Camden County Administrator and Spaceport Camden executive project lead, said in a statement after the FAA's decision was announced.
"Georgia is part of the new space race, and we will become one of the leaders," Howard added.
Even with the license, the FAA says that more comprehensive reviews would be needed before any rockets can be launched.
In its 36-page decision released Monday, the FAA said it considered potential impacts to the climate and environment, public comments, and the agency's responsibility to encourage and promote commercial space launches by the private sector.
"Sea level rise and other climatological changes, such as increase in extreme weather events, may affect the spaceport in the coming years," the FAA wrote in its report.
The land where the spaceport would be built is about 7 nautical miles (11 kilometers) from the Atlantic Ocean.
The FAA also consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on protections for animal species, including the eastern black rail, a small marsh bird.
Camden County has spent nearly 10 years and $10 million on the project. Opponents have gone to court to try to block the county from purchasing land for the spaceport and that litigation is ongoing.
About 3,800 people have signed a petition calling for a referendum that would let voters decide whether the county can buy the property.
"Virtually from the start, the FAA's review of Spaceport Camden has been fraught with factual mistakes and legal errors," Brian Gist, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement Monday. "We will carefully review the FAA's decision to ensure that it fully complies with all applicable laws."
The National Park Service and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior, also have expressed concerns.
In a July 22 letter to the FAA, the Interior Department said a chance of rockets exploding — with fiery debris raining down on wilderness land on Cumberland Island — creates an "unacceptable risk." Cumberland Island, with its wild horses and nesting sea turtles, is a popular tourist area off the Georgia coast.