Just mere months after its first destructive ground-level rocket explosion in the Rio Grande Valley, SpaceX is seeking expansion permits from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to make way for Starship/Super Heavy, the largest rocket in history. The FAA released a faulty analysis on SpaceX that says its expansion will not have a significant impact on the community. This is absolutely false as SpaceX’s negative impacts are clear and numerous.

The FAA will soon have a virtual public comment hearing on their analysis and SpaceX expansion, where non-industry experts can raise awareness of its inadequacies and explain the many ways SpaceX has already negatively impacted our communities. This is an important opportunity to show the FAA the unbearable reality that SpaceX has created for the Rio Grande Valley.

Before launching into the problems with Elon Musk’s project, let’s talk about the built-in barriers for those wanting to participate in these hearings. We’re a predominantly Spanish speaking community, but there is no Spanish version of the FAA analysis and it is not clear that the public comment hearing on their analysis will have translation. Limiting language access is against the law as a violation ofTitle VI of the Civil Rights Act. Spanish speakers should not be prohibited from participating in a public process that affects them.

On an economic development level, Cameron County Commissioners and the City of Brownsville are neglecting community and environmental advocates’ concerns. Elected officials naively believe that SpaceX is improving the community and will create local jobs. The truth is SpaceX has created very little economic opportunity for locals and disrupted more lives than improving them. In fact, more people from outside the community have filled these jobs and forced local people to move.

The FAA and Cameron County leaders must acknowledge that SpaceX has already made Boca Chica Village uninhabitable and inaccessible, as many locals have been displaced. Some have left because they fear more explosions or because their health suffered from poor air quality from nearby construction. Many residents felt they had no choice but to take incentives to leave, even though they didn’t want to. Others held on for as long as they could, but the construction, noise, and light pollution from SpaceX has made living in the Village unbearable.

SpaceX has already stolen beach access away from locals by closing off HWY 4 to Boca Chica several times per month, and plans to shut down the beach up to 800 hours or more per year. SpaceX and the County commissioners have not appropriately consulted community members on the development of this volatile project.

Let’s be real: rocket explosions are already happening close to home. Explosions are yet another threat to our safety because of the proposed LNG plants and Jupiter oil refinery, the Valley Crossing pipeline, and existing industries at the Port of Brownsville. LNG plants would pollute the air and water, and come with their own high risk of explosions from day-to-day operations.

If built, SpaceX’s explosion debris could fall onto highly flammable, explosive, gas facilities. Even the FAA admits that rocket launches would shut down Port of Brownsville operations.

SpaceX expansion is part of a much more destructive plan to drill our beaches for gas and build Musk’s own gas plants, and recolonize our land with his “Starbase” city, privatizing our much loved public spaces.

We all know how special Boca Chica is. It’s an international spot where the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf. It’s where we hang out with our families barbecuing and fishing. Many of us grew up going to the beach to volunteer for clean ups, swim, fish, and have vacation time with our family. But just over the past year, that reality has changed dramatically.

Cameron County Commissioners, the FAA, and the City of Brownsville must acknowledge that SpaceX was never a good idea, and its expansion is an even worse one. Our communities need jobs and local economic development that doesn’t harm us or the environment. Is that too much to ask? Locally-owned sustainable enterprises should be the focal point of our elected leaders, not kowtowing to a billionaire with delusions of grandeur and colonization.

Please show up for the environment, the community, and for Boca Chica by telling the FAA at the Oct. 18 and 20 virtual public hearings to stop SpaceX from expanding.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by six community activists and environmentalists. Xandra Treviño is from Brownsville, Michelle Serrano is a member of Voces Unidas and Las Imaginistas, Patricia Rubio is a member of South Texas Environmental Justice Network, Juan Mancias is a member of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, Dave Cortez is director of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, and Freddy Jimenez is from Brownsville. 

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column was taken by Bekah Hinojosa of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.

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