A judge is expected to hear a lawsuit on June 1 over access restrictions to a South Texas beach amid SpaceX activities for the Starship program.
The Sierra Club, the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas and the nonprofit Save RGV have teamed up 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 tests, the Sierra Club stated on 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 the defendants have done, is against 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 being pursued in the lawsuit.
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The controversial Boca Chica Beach is just steps from SpaceX’s Starbase facility, where it develops, builds, and does test and other corporate work on its next-generation Starship vehicle. Starbase is currently undergoing an environmental investigation from the Federal Aviation Administration, ahead of the company’s plans to launch it and a Super Heavy rocket on its debut in orbit.
The fully reusable stack is intended to transport people and cargo to the Moon, Mars and other distant destinations. Founder Elon Musk has also said that colonizing Mars and exploring deep space will lower costs because of its reusability.
In 2013, according to the Sierra Club statement (opens in new tab), the Texas legislature has amended the Texas Open Beaches Act to allow spaceflight operations to close access to the beach. In 2018, the club added, SpaceX built a rocket facility 460 meters from the water’s edge of the beach.
“The 2013 statute amendment violates 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,” the Sierra Club said.
The club claimed that the beach was closed for 196 hours (equivalent to about 8 days) in the first three months of 2022 and that there were more than 600 hours (about 25 equivalent days) of closures in 2021.
“The defendants have closed Boca Chica beach so many times that RGV [Rio Grande Valley] residents have essentially seen their access disappear. The Carrizo/Comecrudo nation of Texas, which holds the land of Boca Chica sacred, has 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 Texas Carrizo/Comecrudo tribe both announced they would join on May 5. The group is asking the court to invalidate the 2013 amendment.
The group also claims that the approximately 43-kilometer-long Highway 4 in the area has been closed to SpaceX operations, but did not say in their May 5 statement how much of the highway has been closed or how often.