By Gaige Davila
SpaceX has responded to the Cameron County District Attorney’s (DA) office after the latter said the space company may be violating state law.
Luis Saenz, Cameron County’s District Attorney, penned a letter to SpaceX’s Shyamal Patel, senior director of starship operations, after local environmental advocacy group Save RGV complained to the DA over SpaceX’s road closures.
Save RGV said SpaceX was going over their state-allotted 300 hours of road closures by nearly a hundred hours. DA staff drove to the Boca Chica Village, down Remedios Avenue on June 9, where they were detained by one of SpaceX’s security guards.
Saenz, in his letter to Patel, asked whether SpaceX’s security officer and head of security had security licenses, after not finding records in the Texas Department of Safety; asked why Joanna Street on Boca Chica Village was renamed to Rocket Road; asked how many hours SpaceX has closed Highway 4 and how they calculated closure hours; and then told SpaceX they may be violating two state laws: obstructing a highway (from too many road closures) and impersonating a public servant (unlicensed security guards).
Patel wrote back to Saenz on June 17, saying the DA’s office received “certain misunderstandings regarding certain facts and/or misinformation,” and attempted to address the DA’s concerns. SpaceX and the DA’s staff had already met before the letter was sent, according to Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino, meeting on Monday, June 14, trying to diffuse the issues outlined in Saenz’s letter.
Patel said Derek Lopez, the SpaceX security guard who detained DA staff, was certified, and Gunner Milburn, SpaceX’s head of security at their Boca Chica facility, did not act as a security officer. Patel said Lopez was a recent hire and did not understand he could not stop any public official from entering Remedios Avenue, a public road.
Patel said they would emphasize to their security staff that they do not own public roads at Boca Chica Village and cannot stop people from entering them.
Regarding Joanna Street being named Rocket Road, Patel said Cameron County’s engineering department installed the street sign after the Cameron County Commissioners Court approved the street’s renaming on August 15, 2013.
Patel then suggested to Saenz the county begin a formal abandonment process for Remedios Avenue, so SpaceX could take over the maintenance and remaking of the road for their own purposes.
Patel said SpaceX has only closed Highway 4, the lone road leading to Boca Chica Village and SpaceX’s facility, for 226 hours and 9 minutes, as of writing the letter. Patel said this was calculated based on when the county puts a roadblock at SpaceX’s checkpoint to when they reopen the checkpoint. Patel called the 385 hour closure time estimated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Coastal Bend Bay & Estuary Program were “not accurate.”
Saenz, in his initial letter to Patel, asked if SpaceX has a “beach mitigation” plan for its road closures up to 14 days in advance of the closures. Patel said SpaceX attempts to do this as early as possible, asking Cameron County, who is the sole authority to close and reopen the beaches, “for approval far enough in advance to the County for the County to have sufficient time to approve and to accommodate such closure requests.”
Patel did not give an exact number of days these requests are sent to the county.
Saenz, in a statement provided to the PRESS, said the DA’s office has received the letter and they are still reviewing whether SpaceX is complying with Texas law.
“While I wish SpaceX nothing but the best in their endeavors, I will continue to be responsive to concerns raised by the public and to ensure the safety of the community,” Saenz’s statement read.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell says they are aiming to have their first orbital launch in July with their Starship, but they do not have a Federal Aviation Administration license to do so, Space News reported. The FAA is currently investigating the environmental impacts of the flight, noting the initial Environmental Impact Statement made in 2014 is no longer applicable to SpaceX’s expanding flight plans.
The FAA has not given an estimate of when the review will end and when the license will be issued.
Want the whole story? Pick up a copy of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.