SpaceX’s Starship work in Texas sparks lawsuit over beach access

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A judge is set to hear a trial on June 1 over restrictions on access to a South Texas beach amid SpaceX’s activities for the Starship program.

The Sierra Club, the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, and the nonprofit Save RGV have joined in a lawsuit against the Texas General Land Office, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and Cameron County in Texas for periodically closing Boca Chica Beach for SpaceX operations during Starship testing, the Sierra Club said May 5. Boca Chica Beach is near SpaceX’s Starbase facility, where it builds prototype Starship rockets and their massive Super Heavy boosters.

“Restricting access to a public beach, as defendants did, violates the Texas Constitution,” the Sierra Club said in a statement. None of the allegations have been proven in court, and the statement does not name SpaceX among the entities sued in the lawsuit.

Related: 8 Ways SpaceX Transformed Spaceflight

The contested beach of Boca Chica is just down the road, slightly adjacent to SpaceX’s Starbase facility, where it develops, builds and tests its next-generation Starship vehicle and performs other corporate work. Starbase is currently undergoing a Federal Aviation Administration environmental review ahead of the company’s plans for launch and a Super Heavy rocket on its first orbital trip.

The fully reusable battery is intended to transport people and goods to the moon, Mars and other distant destinations. Founder Elon Musk also said Mars colonization and deep space exploration will see their costs reduced due to its reuse.

In 2013, according to the Sierra Club statement (opens in a new tab), the Texas Legislature amended the Texas Open Beaches Act to allow spaceflight operations to close beach access. Then in 2018, the club added, SpaceX built a rocket facility 1,500 feet (460 meters) from the water’s edge of the beach.

“The 2013 status change conflicts with the state constitution, which Texas voters amended in 2009 — by a 77 percent majority — to guarantee the right to free and open access to public beaches,” said the Sierra Club.

The club alleged that the beach was closed for 196 hours (the equivalent of around 8 days) in the first three months of 2022, and that 2021 had seen more than 600 hours (around 25 equivalent days) of closures.

“The defendants closed Boca Chica beach so often that RGV [Rio Grande Valley] residents have seen their access practically disappear. The Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, who hold sacred Boca Chica land, have been ignored as they lose access to their ancestral heritage,” the club said.

The lawsuit was first filed by Save RGV in October 2021, and the Sierra Club and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas both announced they were joining on May 5. The group is asking the court to strike down the 2013 amendment.

The group also alleges that the roughly 27-mile (43-kilometer) Highway 4 in the area was closed for SpaceX operations, but did not specify in its May 5 statement which part of the highway was closed. closed or how often.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) and on Facebook (opens in a new tab).

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