Amid opposition, Texas officials to vote on state park land swap with SpaceX

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By SARAH BAHARI | Dallas Morning News

State officials will consider a controversial proposed land swap with SpaceX on Monday, three weeks before the meeting was planned.

Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioners will decide whether to turn over 43 acres of Boca Chica State Park in exchange for 477 acres near the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, about 10 miles away.

The swap has drawn sharp opposition from some environmental groups and indigenous tribes, who say the Elon Musk-led company is encroaching on their land. Texas Parks and Wildlife staff has said the swap would boost the state’s conservation efforts and provide recreational opportunities, such as hiking and wildlife viewing.

Parks commissioners were set to vote on the swap in January, but the item was pulled from the agenda to give the public more time to examine the plan.

The commission said it would vote on the proposal in late March, but has now set a special meeting for Monday to consider the swap.

Moving the vote up means SpaceX could acquire the land before it attempts a third launch of Starship, which could happen in mid-March, pending approval by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Neither SpaceX nor the parks department responded to requests for comment.

At a news conference Monday, two environmental groups — the South Texas Environmental Justice Network and Another Gulf is Possible — urged commissioners to deny the land swap.

Christopher Basaldu, a spokesperson for the Carrizo/Comecrudo tribe of Texas, read a statement from tribe Chairman Juan Macias that said SpaceX’s expansion will destroy and desecrate the area, environmentally and culturally.

“SpaceX is colonizing our ancestral lands without our consent and without any regard for our sacred sites, our ancestors buried in those sacred lands, nor any regard for our nonhuman relatives, the plants and the animals, the air and the water,” he said. “They deserve to live in clean and nondestructive environments.”

Michelle Serrano, co-director of Voces Unidas RGV, called SpaceX’s encroachment “monumentally unjust to the people who have for generations come to this area to partake in recreational activity.”

In recent years, SpaceX has transformed the Rio Grande Valley with its Starbase facility, rocket launches and plans to build a new multi-million dollar shopping center and restaurant in Brownsville.

Environmental groups and some residents have complained about noise, light pollution and construction. Last year, environmental groups sued the Federal Aviation Administration, challenging its approval of SpaceX’s expanded rocket launches.

The lawsuit came after SpaceX’s Starship exploded over South Texas shortly after a lunch last April, sparking a fire and hurling chunks of concrete and metal shrapnel into the air.

Conservationists have expressed particular concern for the potential loss of wildlife and habitat, as the launch site is within miles of the state park and Laguna Atascosa, a coastal home to wintering and migratory birds considered a premier bird-watching destination.

Cameron County property records show the 477 acres near the refuge are owned by Bahia Grande Holdings, an Austin-registered business. It is not clear how SpaceX and the property owner are connected.

Until recently, Texas has leased Boca Chica State Park to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversaw management of the 1,600 acres of dunes, flats, marshes and coastal grasslands. The state acquired the park, three miles north of the mouth of the Rio Grande, in 1994.

Public comments about the proposal will be accepted until 5 p.m. March 3.