ATLANTA – Proposed legislation designed to lure commercial space operators lost momentum Monday when a House subcommittee raised a barrage of questions and heard concerns from private citizens.
Chairman Johnny Caldwell, R-Thomaston, assigned two members of the panel to work with the bill’s author, Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine. Spencer is sponsoring the bill at the request of the Camden County Commission that hopes to build a spaceport in an abandoned industrial site.
Among the concerns raised by the committee was why the bill is even needed.
House Bill 734, the Georgia Space Flight Act, would prohibit people involved with the launch of rockets from suing if something went wrong, unless they could prove gross negligence. Those not involved could still sue if their property is damaged.
But, it would keep people living in the area from filing suit about noise or nuisances.
Rep. Stacey Evans, one of the two assigned to work on details with Spencer, said it seemed to her that local officials were trying to duck the blame if the facility isn’t popular.
“I’m just thinking, if I’m a local official, I’m closest, and I’m not going to get that excited about telling my neighbor that I’m about to allow such a descent, and it would be a lot easier for me as a local official to say, ‘Well, the state said we could, and it’s out of my hands.’ Is there anything like that going on?” asked Evans, D-Smyrna.
Camden County Manager Steve Howard replied that the bill is statewide so that it could apply to other communities that might also want to host commercial space launches from conventional, horizontal runways.
Consultants to the space industry told the committee that if Georgia captured just 1 percent of the $300 billion commercial market, it would bring 2,200 direct jobs and possibly three times that in indirect employment.
“This is an industry that Georgia should take notice of,” said Bob Scaringe, based in Cobb County.
But five residents of the coast – including the head of the homeowners association in Spencer’s own neighborhood, testified that they objected to having no avenue in court if the noise is annoying.
Kevin Lang, an Athens attorney whose family owns a vacation cottage in the likely trajectory on Little Cumberland Island, said he’s opposed to every aspect of the spaceport because of the risk to his property.
“Turns out these rocket blow up fairly frequently,” he said.
Spencer began the two-hour hearing by noting, “What we have seen, the industry is vulnerable to lawsuits.”
So, being able to protect companies from lawsuits would help entice them to bring their jobs and their launches to Georgia.
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