SpaceX discusses environmental impact

Special to the PRESS

Jim Chapman of the Frontera Audubon Society speaks at the SpaceX public hearing in Brownsville on Tuesday. (Photo by Christina R. Garza)

Jim Chapman of the Frontera Audubon Society speaks at the SpaceX public hearing in Brownsville on Tuesday. (Photo by Christina R. Garza)

The University of Texas at Brownsville ITEC Center hosted a SpaceX Public Hearing on Tuesday to discuss the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a possible Texas launch site in Brownsville.

The Texas SpaceX launch site, currently undeveloped near the eastern end of Texas State Highway 4 in Brownsville, would be the first commercial launch site in the world.

Attendees of the public hearing were asked to sign in and were given an informational packet on the EIS.

The Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) had prepared the EIS packet to walk the public through the environmental impact analysis.

According to the informational packet, the proposed action would enable the Federal Aviation Administration to issue launch licenses and/or experimental permits to SpaceX to conduct launches of the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and a variety of reusable suborbital launch vehicles from the proposed site. The launch trajectory would be east over the Gulf of Mexico.

The public hearing consisted of a poster information session with the FFA followed by a public statement period where members of the audience could voice their questions and concerns.

The EIS draft states that approximately 6.19 acres of wetland would be impacted by the launch site. SpaceX would be required to obtain an individual permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would require compensatory mitigation to offset wetland impacts. If mitigation measures are implemented the impact to the wetlands would be less significant.

The majority of speakers were in favor of the site while Jim Chapman proceeded with caution. Chapman, a member of the Frontera Audubon Society, a group dedicated to preserving the native habitat of the Rio Grande Valley, spoke at the public hearing urging the FAA to further evaluate the effects of SpaceX launch site’s lights on local wildlife as well as solvents and chemicals possibly contaminating ground water. “We want them (SpaceX) to come not as a destroyer of our environment but as an advocate of our precious natural resources,” Chapman said.

A group of teens wore blue Brownsville Economic Development Council t-shirts in favor of the proposed launch site. Brownsville Early College High School student Blanca Estrada, 16, is ecstatic about the possibility of a commercial launch site in the lower Rio Grande Valley. “We are on our school robotics team and are interested in the engineering field, so we think it would be great for learning opportunities,” Estrada said.

The FAA information packet further stated that in order to license the first commercial launch site a permitting review must be conducted. This review would consist of a policy, payload, financial responsibility, environmental and safety review.

Hard copies of the EIS draft are available at the Brownsville Public Library, 2600 Central Blvd., Southmost Branch Library, 4320 Southmost Blvd., and at the University of Texas at Brownsville Oliveira Library, 80 Fort Brown.

Brownsville resident Armando Castañeda eagerly welcomes the proposed SpaceX launch site. “How cool is that – Brownsville as a central hub for space travel, we are beyond the days of government space flight.”

Members of the public are encouraged to submit their questions and concerns via email to or by fax to (410) 990-0455 or written comments can be mailed to:

Ms. Stacey M. Zee, Environmental Specialist

Federal Aviation Administration

SpaceX EIS

c/o Cardno TEC Inc. -275 West Street-Suite 110

Annapolis, MD 21401

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