Spaceport Litigation and What the Planners of Ellington Spaceport Can Learn
Updated: Jun 24, 2019
Did you know that the Ellington Air Force Base in Southeast Houston is home to the country’s 10th spaceport? According to Community Impact Newsletter, officials say that the spaceport will eventually be a takeoff site for space vehicles, allow for commercial supersonic air travel, and bring in thousands of spaceport-based jobs. The first part of the spaceport alone is expected to produce 2,400 direct jobs and an additional 3,500 indirect jobs, resulting in over $830 million in economic output into the local and regional economies.
In February, crews started developing infrastructure (including four main roads, power lines, water and wastewater lines and communication equipment) to attract companies to the Spaceport; this work is expected to take over a year.
While there are many upsides to the Ellington project, there are also some potential problems with urban located spaceports. An example is the Complaint in One Hundred Miles v. Camden County, Georgia, et al. One Hundred Miles is a Georgia Open Records Act (“GORA”) suit challenging the defendants’ refusal to provide access to public records about possible dangers to the public and the environment from a proposed spaceport on the south Georgia coast. The complaint alleges that rockets launched from the spaceport could fly directly over neighborhoods and communities on Georgia’s barrier islands, and over economically valuable fishing areas. Likewise, the complaint alleges, rockets could explode over the salt marsh or in the air over residents’ homes, or they could crash on the mainland while attempting to land—putting lives, property and the environment in danger.
One Hundred Miles has asked for various public records about evacuation zones, hazard areas and safety zones, and for records describing and illustrating what would happen if a rocket were to explode from the proposed spaceport or in the air over nearby communities. One Hundred Miles alleges that none of the defendants have provided a single requested record, in violation of GORA.
The complaint contains four causes of action. Count One is against Camden County for improper withholding of public records responsive to the hazard analysis GORA requests (particular requests that One Hundred Miles has made). Count Two is against NelsonCFO, a Camden County contractor, for improperly withholding public records. Count Three is against Aerospace, a subcontractor to NelsonCFO, for improperly withholding public records. Finally, Count Four is against Camden County for improperly withholding public records responsive to One Hundred Miles’ Launch Site Operator License application request.
If the planners of the Ellington Spaceport don’t want to get caught up in—and possibly delayed by—public interest litigation similar to One Hundred Miles, they should be responsive to all Texas Public Information Act requests relating to the Spaceport. Being non-responsive would suggest that the Ellington Spaceport has something to hide, which could lead to a public relations disaster. Instead, the Spaceport should work closely with the surrounding communities to gain their support.