Environmentalists sue GLO, Cameron County over SpaceX test launch beach closures

Border Report Tour

The SpaceX Starship spacecroft is seen on Nov. 11, 2020, from Boca Chica Beach, Texas, on the U.S./Mexico border. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A group of South Texas environmentalists sued the Texas General Land Office and Cameron County for allowing the repeated closure of Boca Chica Beach, on the border with Mexico, for SpaceX tests.

SaveRGV, a nonprofit organization, on Monday filed a lawsuit in State District Court alleging that closing Boca Chica Beach for SpaceX tests and launches violates the Texas Open Beaches Act.

The group charges in a 24-page lawsuit that it was illegal for the Texas Legislature in 2013 to pass a law allowing for exceptions to that act for space flight activities.

“The beaches belong to the people of Texas and the Constitution says that right cannot be restricted and the GLO and Cameron County are taking away that right at Boca Chica,” Jim Chapman, a board member of SaveRGV, told Border Report Monday afternoon.

Border Report reached out to Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino for comment and will update this story when we receive a response.

Boca Chica Beach, Texas, is home to endangered sea turtles and located on the Texas/Mexico border. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

The Texas Open Beaches Act of 1959 provided for free and unrestricted access to public beaches along the Gulf Coast. “The Act is one of the nation’s strongest and most effective set of laws protecting public beach access,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit charges that the law has been chipped away by a 2013 law passed by the Legislature that amended the Texas Open Beaches Act, and the plaintiffs maintain that violates the state’s Constitution.

Jim Chapman serves on the board of the nonprofits SaveRGV and is president of Friends of the Wildlife Corridor. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

“The public is limited to Boca Chica more and more and according to the Constitution, that’s not supposed to happen,” Chapman said.

SaveRGV charges that the 2013 law has essentially given away Boca Chica Beach to a private corporation, and they want it to be declared unconstitutional.  

“This lawsuit is about a special-interest law that directly conflicts with the Texas State Constitution,” Bill Berg, another SaveRGV board member, said in a statement.

The lawsuit is not seeking monetary damages — other than payment of the nonprofit’s attorney’s fees — but is seeking for a court to declare the 2013 law unconstitutional and to invalidate the memorandum of understanding that allows the GLO and Cameron County to close the beach.

The lawsuit follows much public griping about State Highway 4, also called Boca Chica Boulevard, repeatedly being closed for the past few years due to testing at the private space facility run by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s private space company, which tests spacecraft a stone’s throw from Boca Chica Beach.

State Highway 4, also called Boca Chica Boulevard, dead ends at Boca Chica Beach and the SpaceX launch pad can be seen from the beach. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

And every time the road is closed then beach access also is closed. Often closures last for days as SpaceX is given an elongated window of opportunity to conduct its tests and/or launches.

Chapman says part of the problem is that no one seems to be keeping an accurate accounting of exactly how many days the beach has been closed each year. And it far supersedes earlier agreements that were made with local authorities to keep closures to a minimum.

SaveRGV, a group that started years ago to fight the LNG industry from opening facilities at the Brownsville Port, also has complained to the Federal Aviation Administration about lack of oversight over SpaceX activities on this remote strip of beach just a mile from the Mexican border.

A public hearing will be held Monday, Oct. 18 by the FAA regarding the launching of SpaceX Starship Spacecraft from this facility.

The beach is home to endangered sea turtles that nest on its sand dunes, as well as several endangered species of birds.

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