Lawsuit argues Texas cannot close public beach for SpaceX launches

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Environmentalists say closing public beaches for SpaceX test launches violates the Texas Constitution.

A lawsuit filed by SaveRGV, the Sierra Club and the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe was heard in the 445th District Court in Brownsville on Wednesday, the same week the Federal Aviation Administration told SpaceX it must reduce the number of hours that Boca Chica Beach, a public beach located on the border with Mexico, is closed for launch trials.

The lawsuit heard Wednesday challenges the constitutionality of an amendment to the Texas Open Beaches Act that allows beaches to be closed for spaceflight activities. The case is against the Texas General Land Office, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and Cameron County, where Boca Chica Beach is located.

The groups argue that the repeated closure of Boca Chica beach to allow SpaceX to test rockets is a violation of Texas’ Open Beaches Act of 1959 which guarantees “the public’s right to free and unrestricted access to public beaches along the Gulf Coast,” according to the lawsuit that was filed in October 2021.

The Texas Open Beaches Act guarantees public access to Gulf Coast beaches.

The groups allege that it was illegal for the Texas legislature in 2013 to pass legislation allowing exceptions to that law for spaceflight activities.

“We’re talking about open beach access here,” plaintiff attorney Marisa Perales, of San Antonio, told State District Judge Gloria Rincones. “These Sierra Club and SaveRGV members have recreational interests. They have all visited and relied on their ability to visit the beach for decades, years, some their entire lives as they are from this area. They are therefore impacted by frequent beach closures. »

SpaceX has asked to test launch the Starship, the world’s largest spacecraft, from this remote launch facility the company has built just a quarter mile from the beach in Boca Chica, South Texas. .

If they meet all environmental, safety and financial requirements, they could obtain a launch license from the FAA.

“SpaceX is closer to launching a giant rocket from Texas”, Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted Tuesday night.

But environmentalists have repeatedly complained about damage to the Rio Grande Valley ecosystem associated with explosions and rocket launches so close to the beach.

Lawsuit argues Texas cannot close public beach for SpaceX launches
A sign on the beach in Boca Chica, Texas warns visitors to beware of nesting sea turtles. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

This is an area where sea turtles nest and where rare endangered ocelots live.

The beach itself is only accessible via Highway 4, a two-lane road from Brownsville, which is often closed for SpaceX launches.

Perales said the beach was especially sacred to the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe.

“The Boca Chica area is a sacred area for them and their inability to access the beach during a critical time to practice their sacred exercises has impacted them,” Perales said.

But the defendants argued that a section of the law on open beaches “does not create a private right of enforcement” allowing private parties to sue the state. “It’s not a viable constitutional challenge,” Caroline Meriden of the attorney general’s office told Judge Rincones.

And the 2013 amendment allows county officials to close public beaches in the interest of public safety, they said.

Lawsuit argues Texas cannot close public beach for SpaceX launches
A 2013 Texas Legislature amendment to the Texas Open Beaches Act allows county officials to close public beaches “to protect public health.”

At the end of the hour-long hearing, Rincones said she would decide by June 30 whether the court had jurisdiction to even hear the case.


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