Public expresses concerns and support during FAA virtual hearing regarding SpaceX development

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Sundown at the Starbase SpaceX launch site, July 14. [Gaby Moreno]

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with details about the hearing. 

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) held a virtual public hearing regarding the SpaceX Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA), Monday evening. 

Members of the public registered to comment on the SpaceX Draft PEA had the opportunity to speak during the virtual public hearing hosted by the FAA. The comment period allows the public to voice support, concerns, or any other comments regarding the aerospace company’s presence on Boca Chica.  

The hearing began with a brief overview of the Draft PEA. The Draft PEA found factors such as noise were estimated to be “below levels associated with adverse noise exposure. Whereas, factors such as cultural resources like historical landmarks, biological resources such as endangered species, and water resources are expected to be impacted and have mitigation plans in place. New road closure hours are also included in the Draft PEA: under nominal operations 500 hours and under anomalies 300 hours per year are expected.  

The full Draft PEA and summary documents can be found here.

Approximately 100 comments were made by the public during the hearing, they included comments from local residents and non-local residents, scientists and engineers, activists, and representatives from local indigenous tribes. Reasons why SpaceX should or should not be permitted to continue operations as proposed in south Texas were expressed during the hearing.  

Many environmental and civic concerns were expressed; several comments pointed out that the Draft PEA does not include an assessment for proposed SpaceX projects such as desalination, power, and natural gas plants or a mitigation plan under scenarios such as noise from Starship damaging windows on South Padre Island.

“The FAA needs to do a comprehensive environmental impact assessment of this project. What’s been done for a project of this magnitude, for the area this is going to fundamentally transform, is pessary and inadequate, so you need to conduct a complete environmental study,” said Port Isabel resident Sharon Almaguer in opposition to giving SpaceX the permit to continue operations. “At my home in Port Isabel, with the [Starship prototype], I don’t know how you can say that the noise is in any way acceptable, or that the vibrations are in any way acceptable. My house shakes with [Starship prototypes],” she added.

Concerns with the road closure hours in the Draft PEA were also of concern to some residents.

“If they allow 500 hours of beach closures that equal to 20 days a year. SpaceX doesn’t consider an eight-hour beach closure a full day so it’s multiplied by numerous days, so the 20 days is far exceeded. 800 hours is equal to over a month,” said South Padre Island resident Stewart Diamond.

Also voiced were the concerns from the Mexican side of the impacted area, concerns of colonization and gentrification, and concerns for endangered species.

Those in favor of SpaceX continuing operations as proposed presented points about new technologies that come from space exploration, SpaceX’s contributions to the community, and skepticism about their presence being detrimental to the surrounding environment. Many of those in favor urged the FAA to not halt or delay further developments by SpaceX.

“Nationally we have this problem with NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, that’s a major reason why here in the United States, we haven’t been able to build affordable housing, we haven’t been able to build high-speed rail, we haven’t been able to build nuclear power plants to protect our environment, and it’s because whenever somebody wants to build something big and ambitious, there’s a small number of local environmental extremists that ask for more reviews and more reviews and it just gets delayed indefinitely, so I’ve very concerned that something similar can happen here,” said Dan Elton in support of granting SpaceX the permit to continue proposed operations.

The last comment was made by Brownsville District 2 City Commissioner, Jessica Tetreau, who made an emotional plea to the FAA to grant SpaceX their permit while citing SpaceX contributions and community engagement. Tetreau has been involved with the SpaceX project since its inception.

“Back in 2013, the Brownsville area was named the poorest communities in the entire nation of the United States, that’s not something that I say lightly, and that year Elon Musk chose our community to be the next home of his SpaceX… We are no longer in that position, we are one most sought-after zip codes to live and raise a your children in and I don’t just ask you, I beg you to give them that permit,” said Tetreau. “There are people who don’t understand and appreciate this project.

This is the first of two meetings; the second meeting will be held Wednesday, October 20, 2021, at 6 p.m. The meeting can be accessed through Zoom with this link. The password to enter the meeting is FAA2021. The presentation and comments of Monday’s hearing can be accessed here.  

The comment period ends November 1, 2021. Comments can be submitted to spacexbocachica@icf.com

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