AUSTIN, March 12 - State Rep. René Oliveira says the state is going to have to put together a very attractive incentives package in order to get SpaceX to build the world’s first commercial orbital launch site in Texas.
Space Exploration Technologies, otherwise known as SpaceX, is considering developing the launch site next to Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville. However, SpaceX founder Elon Musk says the company is also considering Florida, Georgia, and Puerto Rico. SpaceX currently sends rockets and other spacecraft into orbit from Cape Canaveral in Florida, transporting cargo in space under a contract with NASA.
“In reviewing what other states are doing it is very clear that our competition is very serious. Florida is looking at making major commitments. Georgia is looking at making major commitments,” Oliveira said, at a House appropriations committee hearing last Friday.
Oliveira testified about the SpaceX project alongside Musk and Caryn B. Schenewerk, an attorney for SpaceX.
Asked by state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, how much money would be needed to lure SpaceX to Texas, Oliveira said he did not want to put any figures out in public just yet.
“We are trying to look at what other states are doing and see how competitive we can be. We have heard some numbers from some other states that are pretty impressive. They are not just talking about money. They are talking about donating land,” Oliveira said.
“In terms of the specific number I am not prepared to say. We need to be competitive is how I will leave it for now. I wish I could say ‘x’ will do it.”
Local governmental entities in Cameron County are doing their bit to help lure SpaceX, Oliveira testified.
“We at the local level we are being very aggressive in trying to be part of the package in terms of assistance,” Oliveira said, noting that Boca Chica Beach is rather remote. He said a rocket launch site needs to be some way from a population center. “We are trying to work on getting power and water to this area because it does not have it.”
Oliveira acknowledged the state of Texas may not be able to match what other states are offering SpaceX. “That is a risk. But, the Governor is committed to this. There are discussions on what TxDOT can do and what the (Texas) Enterprise Fund might do and other things so we can be competitive and bring them here,” he testified.
Oliveira said one legal hurdle the state of Texas will need to jump is a provision in the Open Beaches Act that says public beaches cannot be closed for private events. The Brownsville Democrat has filed legislation to amend the bill so that Boca Chica Beach can be closed at launch times. However, under the bill, the beach could not be closed on Memorial Day weekend, the Fourth of July, or Labor Day weekend.
Oliveira said the Open Beaches Act is a “good law.” However, he said the people of Cameron County have expressed support for closing Boca Chica Beach if it would bring SpaceX to the region. “The job creation and economic development spinoff is absolutely incredible,” Oliveira said, referencing SpaceX.
Oliveira thanked Gov. Rick Perry and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson for their help in trying to lure SpaceX to Texas. Perry mentioned SpaceX in his State of the State address. Oliveira said Perry has been working hard on the project for about a year and a half.
With regard to any environmental concerns over the SpaceX project, Oliveira said the federal government should have its environmental impact study complete in a few months. He said SpaceX is working to ensure any concerns are addressed.
Oliveira also pointed out that hundreds of Cameron County residents attended a public hearing in Brownsville about SpaceX last year and that the hearing showed overwhelming public support for the project. SpaceX’s Schenewerk reiterated this point in her testimony. She said over 500 people attended the hearing last spring and over 70 people spoke in favor of the project with no one against. Among those testifying, she said, were students, school superintendents, and elected officials from many governmental entities.
“The FAA said they had never seen a turnout of so many people with no opposition before in the history of their experience with an EIS public scoping hearing. They were incredibly impressed by the community support and by the wealth and breadth of folks that showed up to voice their support for the project and who they continue to hear from in support of the program. I have to say from my perspective it has just been absolutely amazing to see the support that we have received from the local community,” Schenewerk said.
The FAA is the Federal Aviation Authority. EIS is an environmental impact statement.
Jason Hilts, president and CEO of Brownsville Economic Development Corporation, attended the House committee hearing. He said it is too early to start talking about how much money will be needed to lure SpaceX.
“We will have to wait a little bit until the EIS is complete. That will give us a better understanding of what some of our costs are going to be to set up SpaceX’s operations. So, it is going to be better to wait and see that before we get down to dollars and cents on the deal,” Hilts said.
With regard to Boca Chica Beach being closed during launch time, Hilts said there is overwhelming support for SpaceX in Brownsville and Cameron County. “There will be a few days out of the year when access will be restricted. People understand that,” he said.
Hilts said it is good to see state Rep. Jim Pitts, chair of the appropriations committee, and state Rep. John Davis, chair of the economic and small business committee, get behind the SpaceX project. He said he has been overwhelmed by the level of support being shown by Gov. Perry and his office.
“We started this two years ago after then-Secretary of State Hope Andrade visited with Elon Musk. Since then, we have been working at the federal level, at the state level and at the grassroots level, working with the Governor’s team,” Hilts said. He support the support BEDC is getting from Governor Perry, Chairman Pitts, Chairman Davis, and the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation is “incredible.”
“It is a great day to be from Brownsville and a great day to be a Texan,” Hilts added.