Texas Official Warns SpaceX Amid Showdown Over Public Roads

The Space Exploration Technologies Corp. South Texas launch site in Boca Chica Village in Brownsville, Texas. (Photographer: Veronica G. Cardenas/Bloomberg)

Texas Official Warns SpaceX Amid Showdown Over Public Roads

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A Texas prosecutor warned billionaire Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. that the company’s private security guards are blocking access to public roads around one of its bases, a situation that could potentially result in lawsuits and criminal charges.

Security guards hired by SpaceX are preventing people from accessing two county roads that now make up part of SpaceX’s Starbase complex, located about 22 miles east of Brownsville, Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz warned a SpaceX executive in a public letter released Tuesday.

“While SpaceX is a valued member of our community, this does not authorize SpaceX, its employees, staff, agents and/or contractors to disregard Texas law,” Saenz wrote in his letter.

Saenz said that while out investigating complaints against SpaceX’s conduct on the roads made to a county judge by local environmental group Save RGV From LNG, his staff tried to drive on Remedios Avenue and Joanna Street. He said they were met by a SpaceX security guard in a bulletproof vest, who allegedly told them that they had to turn around and return to State Highway 4.

The district attorney’s staff reported that both county-owned roads have been renamed and built over -- or closed off -- by SpaceX personnel. His office maintained that the county never gave SpaceX permission to close or rename the streets, and that the conduct by the company and its security officers may constitute misdemeanor obstruction of a highway and felony impersonation of a public servant charges.

SpaceX officials didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

Saenz also expressed legal concerns that SpaceX has been exceeding the hours it’s able to shut State Highway 4 in order to conduct rocket launching tests.

Road closures to nearby Boca Chica Beach and a neighboring wildlife refuge have been a point of contention with Save RGV From LNG and fellow environmentalists at the American Bird Conservancy, who contend that while the Federal Aviation Administration has only permitted SpaceX 12 launches and 180 hours of road closures per year, the company logged more than 1,100 hours in 2020.

The road-closure agreement was outlined in an MOU between SpaceX, the Texas General Land Office and Cameron County. The MOU limited closures to 180 hours per year, and the the FAA later issued an addendum stating that 300 hours of closures were allowable.

Saenz wrote that the company has had 385 hours of closures so far this year. He also warned SpaceX about using local police officers and sheriff’s deputies for highway closures beyond approved limits, saying the company could be exposing law enforcement officials to state official oppression statues.

“If SpaceX has indeed exceeded the alloted hours, then there is no longer a legal authorization to obstruct State Highway 4,” he wrote.

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