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Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioners are considering a land swap with SpaceX that would give Elon Musk’s space exploration company about 43 acres from Boca Chica State Park.
In exchange for the land in Texas’ southernmost strip along the Gulf Coast, SpaceX would transfer 477 acres nearby that could be used for hiking, camping and birding. Boca Chica is a cherished place where people fish, see wildlife and hang out on the beach. The park measures about 1,060 acres in all.
Parks and Wildlife staff recommended the exchange because they view it as a way for the agency to increase public access and protect grasslands and wetlands. In a statement Wednesday, the agency said the trade "could provide mutual benefits."
"These conversations continue more than a decade of cooperative work with SpaceX to carry out our respective missions as neighbors," the TPWD statement said.
A vote on the proposal is expected March 28. During a meeting Wednesday, Commission Chair Jeffery Hildebrand indicated his support.
“The land exchange is a extremely valuable opportunity to the department, the state of Texas, to provide more recreational opportunities to the public,” Hildebrand said. “I am committed to moving this process forward and completing the transaction.”
While the sheer difference in land size makes the trade seem like a good deal for the state, environmental groups and community members urged caution. The Cameron County Judge opposed the swap. The Tribal Chair of the Esto'k Gna Tribal Nation of Texas said such a trade would compound a history of his community being erased or ignored.
“It doesn’t make any sense at all for them to do what they’re doing in transferring that land,” said Juan Mancias, the tribal chair. “None at all.”
Cyrus Reed, conservation director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said people need time to be informed and consider whether they are willing to lose a portion of what has been an important, family-friendly resource. The Commission was originally scheduled to vote on the deal Thursday.
“Overall there may be some benefits to it,” Reed said. “The question is, is it benefiting the community that has traditionally gone to the Boca Chica area?”
Wildlife advocates and residents over the past decade have expressed concerns about SpaceX’s decision to build its launch area near protected state and federal land in South Texas. They worried about potential harm to endangered and threatened species such as ocelots, Piping Plover birds and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles.
Emma Guevara, who grew up in Brownsville and is now a field organizer for the Sierra Club, said SpaceX changed the community. A company people hoped would bring good jobs instead brought contract and custodial work for them and higher-paying work for outsiders who moved in, she said. The company closes the road to the beach. A launch last year sent dust falling from the sky.
“It's a little sneaky, because it seems good because it's so much more land being traded,” Guevara said. “But the land that's being traded is incredibly important to the community … so there’s a lot of community opposition to this. There’s a lot of community opposition to SpaceX in general.”
SpaceX did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
A coalition of groups concerned about environmental harm sued the Federal Aviation Administration last year alleging that the government did not do enough to protect against or mitigate “significant environmental harm.”
“It’s a race to the bottom,” said Peter Galvin, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “First, you know, they put this thing smack dab in the middle of a state park and national wildlife refuge. And now they want to take a chunk … out of the state park. I mean, what's next?”
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