Gulf of Mexico
Elon Musk tweeted this image of the "Starship Production Complex" in Boca Chica, Texas, in June. Credit: Twitter @elonmusk

TX - SpaceX launch site brings controversy to Texas town - 60 Minutes Plus

SpaceX broke ground in the tiny town of Boca Chica in 2014. Since then, documents show, their presence has been a source of tension between the company and government agencies.

A new 60 Minutes+ report reveals that Elon Musk's SpaceX is causing clashes between government agencies and local residents in a small Texas town over the company's launch and testing facility in Boca Chica Texas.

Correspondent Enrique Acevedo spoke with current and former local residents who alleged that SpaceX conducts tests with little warning, prompting the evacuations of homes. They blame brush fires and broken windows on the tests as well.

In 2018, Musk said about the area, "We've got a lot of land with nobody around, so if it blows up, it's cool."

The launch site does border the Boca Chica National Wildlife Refuge though, home to many vulnerable species. When a test flight on March 30 blew up, it sent debris into the refuge and it took over three months to clean up.

David Newstead, director of the bird program at the nonprofit Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, told Acevedo he's seen changes in the refuge since SpaceX began their operations.

Newstead said that where there used to be a dozen or more nests, starting last year they only found two. "And this year, there was only one," he added.

The location was ideal for SpaceX in part because of its proximity to the equator -- where the earth spins faster, giving rockets a boost on their way up. Texas competed with other states before SpaceX chose Boca Chica. The state offered more than $15 million in incentives and passed a bipartisan bill allowing the public beach to be shut down during launches and tests, an FAA safety requirement. Limited closures to Highway 4, the only way in and out of Boca Chica, would also be allowed.

But under their agreement with the FAA, SpaceX only has permission to close down the highway for a total of 300 hours per year. Newstead and his team decided to start tracking closure hours. They allege that SpaceX has exceeded 1,000 hours.

A local advocacy group, Save Rio Grande Valley (Save RGV), alerted the district attorney about the alleged breach of SpaceX's permit. The district attorney then wrote to SpaceX, saying, "If SpaceX has indeed exceeded the allotted hours, then there is no longer a legal authorization to obstruct State Highway 4."

SpaceX responded to the district attorney with a letter saying they take the matter seriously, and that they are "committed to working cooperatively" to resolve it. They say they are honoring their agreement with the FAA, and by their count, they've only closed down the highway for "226 hours and 9 minutes." SpaceX referred to the allegations brought by Save RGV as "not accurate."

But in documents obtained by 60 Minutes+, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service communicated to the FAA that they also believe SpaceX has been exceeding their assigned hours. They calculated disruption to public access in "excess of 1,000 hours in 2019."

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