Texas approves land-swapping deal with SpaceX as company hopes to expand rocket-launch operations

MCALLEN, TX — SpaceX would acquire public land in Texas to expand its rocket launch facilities under a tentative deal that is moving forward after months of opposition from residents and officials near the U.S.-Mexico border.

The tentative land swap deal moved forward this week when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to swap 43 non-contiguous acres of Boca Chica State Park with SpaceX, giving the state 477 acres about 10 miles south of the park near Brownsville. ,Texas.

Some of the 43 disputed hectares are landlocked and have no public access, but do contain protected plant and animal species. Although SpaceX is proposing to swap the public land for 477 acres, it has not yet purchased that property. None of the land in the deal has beach access, but the 43 acres are near protected federal lands and lagoons that stretch along the coast.

“Through this transaction, we are ensuring the preservation of 477 acres that would otherwise potentially be developed into condominiums or strip centers,” said Jeffery D. Hildebrand, chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, appointed by Governor Greg Abbott, at the end of the meeting. .

The deal started in 2019 as a conversation between the state and SpaceX. But it was eventually worked out in 2023, said David Yoskowitz, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

People sent more than 2,300 letters to the department to express their views. Although the majority, 60%, were opposed, the department recommended that the state vote in favor of the deal, which received the support of the area’s Democratic senator, the comptroller and the commissioner of the Texas General Land Office.

Dozens of people traveled to Monday’s rally in the state capital Austin to voice their support or dissatisfaction with the plan.

Cyrus Reed, legislative and conservation director for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter, was among those opposed to the deal.

“Alternatively, if we think the 477 hectares are valuable, we think we should buy it. We, the voters of Texas, have given you money to purchase valuable land,” Reed said, referring to the state’s Centennial Parks Conservation Fund.

In November, voters approved the creation of the fund, creating the largest park development endowment in Texas history.

“And think of the precedent you’re setting,” Reed said. “If you approve this deal, it means that every industrialist, everyone who has an interest in expansion, is going to look at this and say, ‘Where can I go and find some land? that I can trade to continue polluting and hurting other lands?’ So that is not a net benefit for Texas.”

Kathryn Lueders, general manager of SpaceX Starbase, attended the meeting and said she has seen wildlife coexist with spacecraft in Florida when she worked as a program manager for NASA.

“At the same time, it further expands on a critical refuge and allows Texans to receive a coveted property that has been sought by multiple state and federal agencies for conservation efforts for more than a decade,” she said.

An environmental review, public comment period and other consultations could mean the sale of the property could take as long as 18 months, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s general counsel.