The proposed Spaceport Camden in Camden County, Ga. has a sketch of the launch pad complex provided by the artist. Voters blocked the purchase of 4,000 acres of land for the project in a special election Tuesday.

Spaceport Camden/via AP

Voters in Georgia rejected a plan to build a rocket launch pad for sending satellites into space on Tuesday in a referendum that was forced by opponents who feared the project posed safety and environmental risks.

Camden County officials were denied the authority to buy 4,000 acres for the spaceport project after unofficial returns showed a large majority voting against it.

Camden County spent a decade and $10.3 million pursuing the spaceport. They asked the Georgia Court of Appeals to prohibit certification of the vote as the county presses a legal argument that the election should be declared invalid.

They are guilty of ignoring the will of the voters right now, said James Goodman, a spaceport critic and a city councilman in the Camden County community of St. Marys. If they persist, they will demonstrate contempt for the voters.

John Simpson, a spokesman for the spaceport project, said county officials had no immediate comment on the outcome.

The Federal Aviation Administration gave the county a license to operate Spaceport Camden. A judge ordered that the land deal be put to a vote before county officials could close on their purchase. More than 3,500 petition signatures were gathered by opponents of a special election.

Camden County, located on the Georgia-Florida line, has worked since 2012 to build and operate the 13th licensed U.S. launch site for private rockets. Supporters say it is a chance for the county of 55,000 to join the commercial space race.

Jimmy Starline, a former chairman of the county commission, said that the launch of Spaceport Camden would bring thousands of visitors and millions of dollars in economic activity to the area.

The ruins of the Dungeness mansion are next to a wild horse. Voters in Georgia rejected a plan to build a launchpad for commercial rockets.

Chris Viola/AP file photo

The proposed launch site is an industrial plot that was once used to manufacture pesticides and munitions.

Critics, including the National Park Service, say rockets exploding soon after launch could rain fiery debris onto Little Cumberland Island, which has about 40 private homes, and neighboring Cumberland Island, a wilderness visited by about 60,000 tourists each year.

Megan Desrosiers, executive director of the coastal Georgia group One Hundred Miles, said the vote Tuesday sent a clear message to Camden County officials.

Desrosiers helped organize the petition drive to put the Spaceport Camden boondoggle on the ballot.

Steve Howard, the government administrator of Camden County, said prior to the vote that the chances of anyone getting hurt or killed during a launch are less than being struck by lightning.

In every scenario, this can be done and it can be done safely.

Even if the spaceport is built, there is no guarantee that it will fire its first rocket. More than half of licensed U.S. spaceports have never held a licensed launch.

In a December letter, the FAA said that another round of safety and environmental evaluations will be needed before anyone could launch rockets from the Camden County site. The agency warned that there are many more reviews to be had and no outcome is guaranteed.

The Georgia Court of Appeals was asked to temporarily stop the certification of the election. Georgia's constitution doesn't allow voters to veto the spaceport project with a referendum, Commissioners argued in a lower court.

The legal motion was passed to the Georgia Supreme Court by the Court of Appeals.

The Camden County Spaceport Authority was approved by the Georgia Legislature in 2019. The spaceport authority has the power to purchase property.

If voters block the county commission from closing the deal, the Commissioners may try to use their authority to buy the spaceport property.

Howard wouldn't comment on the motive. He said that he couldn't speculate on what people would do.

If the spaceport authority were to be used to subvert the will of voters, the state lawmaker from Camden County would ask the legislature to do the same.

If there is a referendum vote that indicates that the county cannot purchase this property, I will not stand aside and see that this piece of legislation created a few years ago be utilized in a way that allows the county to ignore the votes of my people.