AUSTIN – Environment Texas launched a petition drive today to stop the proposed construction of a spaceport on 49 acres of land almost completely surrounded by a south Texas park and wildlife refuge. California company SpaceX – which made news last week when their commercial spacecraft successfully attached to the International Space Station - has applied to the Federal Aviation Administration for a license to launch million pound rockets from an area home to endangered sea turtles, ocelots and falcons.
“I love the space program as much, if not more, than anyone,” said Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger. “But launching big, loud, polluting rockets from the middle of a wildlife refuge will scare the heck out of every creature within miles and spray noxious chemicals all over the place. It’s a terrible idea and SpaceX needs to find another place for their spaceport.”
On Tuesday, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration outlining significant concerns with the proposed facility, which would include a hangar, a launch pad, a stand that contains a flame duct, propellant storage tanks, and more. TPWD wrote that “noise, heat, vibration, fencing and hazardous material spills” from the project could harm endangered and threatened species and diminish the value of Boca Chica State Park (near Brownsville) and the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. SpaceX had previously approached TPWD about leasing parkland for the project, which the agency declined. SpaceX then instead leased 49 acres of land almost completely surrounded by the state park (see attached map). TPWD also noted
- "potential for significant contamination of very senstive resources in the event of a catastrophic event (i.e., hurricane)"
- the area is "extremely susceptible to wildfires" which could result from launch failures and accidental fires
- concern "with the loss of the function and value of all wetlands"
- "recreational use of the TPWD lands as currently planned would need to be revised"
- "the proposed project area is within the Central Flyway, a route through which over 500 species of birds migrate annually"
Environment Texas also pointed out the risk the project poses to the south Texas economy. According to a 2011 Texas A&M study, nature tourism generates about $300 million a year in the Rio Grande Valley, created 4,407 full- and part-time jobs and $2.6 million in sales taxes and $7.26 million in hotel taxes. The Rio Grande Valley has been named the number two destination in North America for birdwatching and attracts visitors from all over the world to view almost 500 species of bird. The petition calls on SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to find suitable land for the project elsewhere.