TPWD schedules SpaceX Boca Chica land swap meeting; seeks public comment

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A general map showing the areas of a proposed land swap between the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and SpaceX. (Courtesy: TPWD)

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission is soliciting public comment on a proposed land swap involving SpaceX, approximately 477 acres south of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge Bahia Grande Unit, and approximately 43 acres of Boca Chica State Park.

SpaceX has asked for the 43 acres of state park property to “expand its operational footprint around its launch facilities” at Boca Chica in exchange for giving the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department the 477 acres near Laguna Madre. An item to approve the land swap was pulled from the agenda of the commission’s Jan. 25 regular meeting, though the commission is now scheduled to consider the proposal at at a special meeting on March 4 at 10 a.m. at TPWD headquarters, 4200 Smith School Rd., in Austin.

The agency said the public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed transaction before the commission takes action. Public comments may be mailed before March 4 to Trey Vick, TPWD project manager, 4200 Smith School Rd., Austin, 78744; emailed to [email protected]; or submitted via the department’s website, tpwd.texas.gov.

TPWD said acquiring the 477 acres would “enable (TPWD) to enhance its management and protection of Texas’s natural resources and increase recreational opportunities.” However, Cameron County Commissioner David Garza has complained that the proposal has been rushed through, and that the county was working on buying the 477 acres when the county learned of the proposed transaction.

The county was planning on preserving in its natural state a roughly 430-acre segment abutting the South Texas Ecotourism Center, which opened in February 2022, and building small parking areas and a scenic walking trail the length of a smaller portion, a little over 47 acres, on the south shore of the Lower Laguna Madre.

TPWD published public notices in the Valley Morning Star and The Brownsville Herald on Wednesday announcing the meeting date and providing contacts for public comment.

SpaceX continues to build out its Starbase rocket production/testing complex at Boca Chica at a rapid pace, and has been testing a Starship-Super Heavy prototype in anticipation of a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration allowing the company to make its third attempt at an orbital flight with Starship.

Per a $2.9 billion contract with NASA awarded in 2021, SpaceX is developing Starship as the Human Landing System that will return astronauts to the moon for the first time in more than 50 years as part of NASA’s Artemis lunar program. NASA has pushed back the expected first crewed mission to the moon to September 2026.