Environmentalists have blasted SpaceX’s launch site, due to its impact on the local wildlife.
SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Mask in 2002, chose Boca Chica in South Texas as the location for its launch site in 2014.
Texas officials had been interested in wooing Musk to choose their state for Space X’s site since he first began talking about a private space port in 2011.
According to the Guardian, when the tech mogul formally announced Boca Chica had been selected, most people focused on the positives of the opportunity.
Josh Mejia, executive director of the Brownsville Community Investment Corporation said: “We were seen as a border town, with all the negative national rhetoric that goes along with that.
“But SpaceX choosing to build here, that gave us tremendous validation. Other businesses finally started looking at us and seeing potential.”
Environmental groups however are worried about the impact SpaceX’s presence has on the local environment, with David Newstead, director of the non-profit Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries, saying he felt sick as he saw the fireball explode on the launchpad following SpaceX’s Starship flight – which exploded only six minutes into its flight last March.
Boca Choca is home to a delicate ecosystem full of vulnerable species, such as sea turtles, ocelots and wild cats, which Jim Chapman, a local environmentalist with Save Rio Grande Valley described as “one of the most unique places on Earth.”
The explosion littered parts of this ecosystem with rocket debris, and took three months to clean up.
“I knew from the other explosions that the rocket would be scattered all over the refuge,” added Newstead.
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SpaceX’s activity on the ground ramped up in 2019 as rocket testing began taking place.
SpaceX employees and contractors were reportedly constantly driving up and down Texas State Highway 4 and using roadsides for parking, despite them being technically state land managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Local environmentalists have grown increasingly concerned that SpaceX is dominating the road and the refuge land around it, closing roads and beaches for longer than the permitted 300 hours.
In 2019, US Fish and Wildlife sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) asking that SpaceX’s road closures and testing be halted until “noncompliance issues are resolved”.
According to 60 minutes, in June this year, the agency again reported SpaceX to the FAA regarding “unauthorized encroachments and trespass on the refuge”, including parking on refuge land and installing a drainage ditch.
Earlier this year, Save Rio Grande Valley wrote to the Cameron County District Attorney claiming that SpaceX had cut off access to the beach and the refuge for more than 1,000 hours.
In response, SpaceX denied the company road closures had exceeded the permitted 300 hours describing the claims as “not accurate”.
Bryan Bird from the national environmental non-profit Defenders of Wildlife said: “It’s really been shocking to witness the way the federal government has allowed this to happen.
“Elon Musk is building a space complex in one of the most environmentally diverse, and inappropriate, places in the world.”
Jim Blackburn, a professor of environmental law at Rice University, said complaints about a lack of enforcement of environmental regulations are common.
“A lot of people think that because we have these laws, the environment is protected, but that’s not how it works.
“People working on the ground for these agencies are often well meaning, but if the political will is there to allow a project like SpaceX to go through, that’s what happens.”
Jim Chapman who has worked to protect the Lower Rio Grande Valley national wildlife refuge for the past four decades said he has never been more concerned.
“There’s always someone coming along who wants to develop the land out here.
"It used to be that we could rely on the government to step in, but now I’m not so sure about that.”
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