The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed SpaceX in a letter dated March 7 that its permit application for an expansion of the company’s Starbase complex at Boca Chica has been withdrawn due to lack of information.
USACE said SpaceX had not provided requested follow-up information regarding proposed expansion that would affect more than 17 acres of land at Boca Chica designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance and by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as critical habitat for federally listed species.
USACE said it it sent SpaceX a letter on May 21, 2021, that included “substantive comments” about the company’s proposed expansion, including comments from EPA, USFWS, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Service. The letter also contained “substantive issues raised by the Corps.”
USACE said that in order for it to complete its review of the proposed project, it needed SpaceX to provide an “alternatives analysis” under rules governing “disposal sites for dredged or fill material,” a thorough public-interest review, and a Compensatory Mitigation Plan for Losses of Aquatic Resources.
In applying to USACE for the permit last year, SpaceX said the proposed expansion was to accommodate additional launch/landing pads, integration towers and “associated infrastructure, stormwater management features and vehicle parking,” according to the public notice USACE issued last year soliciting comments.
SpaceX did submit some information to USACE, though the company’s “siting criteria” requiring the use of existing infrastructure “eliminates, without additional considerations, all alternatives not located in Boca Chica,” even though SpaceX has said it is considering additional launch/reentry locations beyond Boca Chica, USACE said.
USACE called SpaceX’s definition of environmental siting criteria “too broad and undefined,” and recommended that the company readdress the No Action Alternative in its analysis.
SpaceX is waiting for the results of a Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment by the Federal Aviation Administration about the company’s plans for the Boca Chica, including the first orbital launch of a combined Starship-Super Heavy booster. The FAA has pushed back the deadline to complete the PEA multiple times. The current deadline is April 29.
Depending on the results of the Final PEA, the FAA may or may not issue the necessary orbital launch license. One option is for the FAA to demand a much more comprehensive, time-consuming Environmental Impact Statement in addition to the PEA.
“Specifically, SpaceX needs to describe impacts to ongoing operations if the permit is denied,” USACE said. “For instance, in a Feb. 10, 2022 announcement, SpaceX stated they will shift operations to Kennedy Space Center (in Florida) if the FAA requires and Environmental Impact Statement. This alternative was eliminated from analysis in your Oct. 2021 submission but seems to represent either the No Action alternative or a practicable off-site alternative requiring detailed analysis.”
USACE wrote on March 7 that SpaceX can re-initiate the permit application process by “addressing all comments/concerns specified in our May 21, 2021 (letter).”