Nonprofit seeks end to Boca Chica Beach closures

In this Dec. 2, 2020 file photo, a view of Starship SN8 can be seen at the SpaceX South Texas Launch Site as the SN8 and SpaceX crew plan a 15-kilometer altitude (9.3 miles) test flight and landing. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

A nonprofit Texas organization says SpaceX has exceeded the number of times it can make requests to Cameron County to close Highway 4 and Boca Chica Beach — so rocket testing and launches can be conducted — and has made a request that road closures cease for the rest of the year.

Save RGV, whose mission is to promote the conservation of the remaining natural areas of the county, on June 3 sent a letter to Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. and District Attorney Luis V. Saenz outlining what it called multiple violations of a Sept. 1, 2013 Memorandum of Agreement between the county and the state’s General Land Office, and the original 2014 Record of Division by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“This is illegal and against our State Bill of Rights, as provided by Article I, Section 33 of the Texas Constitution, and so demand all further road and beach closure orders be ceased for the remainder of the year,” Save RGV states in a press release.

The organization claims there are numerous violations of the MOAs, saying these are a few examples:

>> Closures of State Highway 4, which is the only ingress and egress to Boca Chica Beach have not been done with proper notice.

>> Frequently the County’s published hours of closure orders are changed, reduced or extended by SpaceX, essentially closing a state highway without state or county authorization. The non-profit said this is illegal.

>> The MOA requires the closure announcements be accompanied by a “beach mitigation plan.” “We have never seen such a plan.”

>> The closure hours in 2020-2021 exceed the number of hours allowed in the FAA’s 2014 Record of Decision.

In conclusion, the letter states that since SpaceX has already exceeded its FAA-authorized 300 hour closure limit for 2021, the group requests that Cameron County and the GLO cease issuing any further closure orders for the rest of the year. “To do otherwise is to continue to knowingly and willingly violate the Memorandum of Agreement,” the non-profit states.

Saenz on Wednesday said he reviewed the letter and that the non-profit does raise some legitimate questions and concerns. He said his office is working on getting them some answers.

A copy of the letter was also sent to the Texas General Land Office, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Wednesday, Trevino issued another order pertaining to the closing of a portion of Highway 4 between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Thursday for some additional SpaceX testing activity.

In a previous interview, Trevino, who signs the closure orders, said there has been confusion over who is responsible for enforcing the closure limits — the county or the FAA.

“I think that’s something that we’re still in the process of trying to figure out,” he said. “That’s why we’re reaching out to (the FAA) and other agencies to try to get some definitive answer or clarification going forward.”

Trevino said the county is stuck between trying to accommodate SpaceX’s needs so the company can keep making progress toward developing a spacecraft that can carry humans to the moon and Mars, while at the same time not cutting off public access to Boca Chica Beach to an unreasonable degree.

“Believe it or not we don’t say yes all the time, and we’re trying to work with SpaceX to develop a more organized and predictive schedule … from a working standpoint in order to allow them the time that they need in order to keep moving forward on the project and development and testing, and from the public’s perspective so that way they can better plan and have a better idea of when the beach is going to be open,” he said.

“There’s got to be some give and take in order for this to be successful. We’re in the process of inventing the wheel right now, so there are some growing pains associated with it.”

Staff Writer Steve Clark contributed to this report.