McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Environmentalists allege that the closure of 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 on Wednesday in Brownsville, the same week that 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 tests.
The lawsuit heard Wednesday challenges the constitutionality of an amendment to the Texas Open Beaches Act that allows beach closures for space flight activities. The case is brought 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 in order to allow SpaceX to test rockets is a violation of the 1959 Texas Open Beaches Act that 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 groups allege that it was illegal for the Texas Legislature in 2013 to pass a law allowing for exceptions to that act for space flight activities.
“Here we’re talking about open beach access,” plaintiff attorney Marisa Perales, of San Antonio, told State District Judge Gloria Rincones. “These members of the Sierra Club and SaveRGV have recreational interests. They have all visited and relied upon their ability to visit the beach throughout decades, years, some for their entire lives as they are from this area. So they are impacted by the frequent beach closures.”
SpaceX has applied to test launch the Starship, the world’s largest spacecraft, from this remote launch facility the company built just a quarter-mile from Boca Chica Beach in South Texas.
If they meet all environmental, safety and financial requirements, they could get a launch license from FAA.
“SpaceX is closer to launching giant rocketship from Texas,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted late Tuesday.
But environmentalists have repeatedly complained about the damages to the Rio Grande Valley ecosystem associated with rocket explosions and launches so close to the beach.
It is an area where sea turtles nest and rare endangered ocelots are said to live.
The beach itself is accessible only through Highway 4, a two-lane road from Brownsville, that often is closed for SpaceX launches.
Perales said the beach is 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 in order to practice their sacred exercises has impacted them,” Perales said.
But defendants argued that a section of the Open Beaches Act “does not create a private right of enforcement” for private parties to sue the state. “It isn’t a viable constitutional challenge,” Caroline Meriden with 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.
At the end of the hour-long hearing, Rincones said she would rule on or before June 30 on whether the court has jurisdiction to even hear the case.