What some might see as problems for Camden County, the county’s Joint Development Authority sees as opportunities. On Nov. 15, the Camden Country JDA board of directors voted to explore the potential development of a new municipal airport and an aero-spaceport facility.
Camden County is home to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.
According to a JDA news release, senior Navy officials have expressed concerns about safety and security at the city of St. Marys municipal airport. The airport’s primary runway is aligned with the naval base.
Executive Director David Keating said the JDA would help the city by making land within project boundaries available to a local airport authority for acquisition and with the development of a new municipal airport.
A potential site for a new airport is the 4,000-acre site owned by the Union Carbide Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company, Keating said. The site already includes a small private airport, which has potential for a longer runway. Moreover, it offers possibilities for further economic development, he said.
Keating said the Georgia Department of Economic Development has been looking into the potential for a commercial spaceport at the Dow Chemical site. It would be Georgia’s first aero-spaceport.
He noted that the space-shuttle program has been discontinued, and pointed out the federal government has been contracting with commercial space technology companies for services. Keating said several horizontal- and vertical-lift space companies are looking for launch platforms from which they can deliver satellites into orbit or take advantage of growing interests in “space tourism.”
He added that several commercial space technology companies are looking at Southeast Georgia for potential launch sites. Some companies already have visited the Dow Chemical site. However, Keating would not say what companies have expressed an interest in the Camden County site.
“The (Dow) site is a former industrial property in a remote and secure setting that is improved with a small, former private airfield and rocket-engine testing facility located along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway,” Keating said. “Rockets were barged to the site and tested (there) in the past.”
Among other advantages, the Dow site is located in a sparsely populated area and has the capability to launch out over a marsh to ocean-based airspace.
Keating said operations ceased at the Dow site more than 10 years ago. Having a new municipal airport — especially a spaceport — would be a tremendous economic boost to the community.
“It would be a rebirth of an important industrial property in our community,” Keating said. “But you have to start the ball rolling first.”
He said the JDA already has taken action to enter into an agreement with Dow. The JDA’s board of directors also has authorized in an increase in its legal budget by $20,000, he said. The board also agreed to let JDA staff continue due diligence and explore partnerships with tenants and land owners.
The JDA news release said several meetings with government and industry officials have taken place to “vet the project and explore the process, approvals and permits required.” While noting that closing on the property depends on receipt of “all requisite approvals, entitlements and funding,” the release said it was possible for construction to begin by 2014 and be operational by 2015.
One of the commercial space technology companies that could take advantage of a potential spaceport site is SpaceX. According to their website, SpaceX is the fastest-growing provider of launch services. The website said SpaceX currently has about $4 billion in contracts, including a $1.4 billion contract with NASA.
With its Falcon rockets and Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX has twice docked with the International Space Station, exchanged cargo payloads and returned safely to Earth.