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SpaceX receives pushback from Texas residents for testing rockets

Since 2014 SpaceX has made Boca Chica Beach in Brownsville, Texas, home. From there it tests rockets and launches them into space.
Posted at 9:02 PM, Feb 14, 2023

Brownsville, Texas has its head in the clouds, over rockets blasting into outer space.  

"I was here day one at city hall when Space X showed up with those exciting plans," said Jessica Tetreau, the Brownsville City commissioner.  

Tetreau, who is also running for mayor, is an unabashed supporter of SpaceX.

The private rocket and space travel company lead by billionaire Elon Musk came to the tip of Texas in 2014. 

"They brought 1,700 jobs here and in Cameron County 61,000 jobs have been created because of them," Tetreau said.  

More than 36% of the people in Cameron County were living in poverty in 2010. 10 years later, Census data shows the poverty level declined to around 27%. 

"These are higher paying jobs and it means a lot to the families who can provide because of them," Tetreau said.  

The company has built on two sites on Boca Chica Beach, right on the border with Mexico. It was lured to Texas with a total of $15 million in county and state incentives — including grants and tax abatements.  

SpaceX’s billionaire chief Elon Musk on Twitter said the next launch from Boca Chica could happen in March, and it could be one of the biggest launches in history. But not everyone is enamored with the plan. 

That includes Bekah Hinojosa, an activist with Another Gulf is Possible, who believes SpaceX is harming the coastline.

"SpaceX is harming our way of life down here. I mean they started a grass fire. They're cutting off access to the beach and access to local indigenous people, the Carrizo/Comecrudo, to sacred sites on the beach," Hinojosa said.  

In September, a SpaceX engine test did spark a grassfire, destroying 68 acres of a protected wildlife refuge.  

Hinojosa adds gentrification has come to Brownsville, citing more expensive housing prices and rents. Local data shows the median home price has gone up more than 18% in one year.  

And for Bekah it’s gotten personal. She was arrested in connection with graffiti on a mural funded by Elon Musk last year. Police body cam footage showing officers cuffing her for a Class B misdemeanor.  

"They showed up to my place, barged in and subjected me to a violent arrest," Hinojosa said. 

She says she spent 26 hours in the lock up and then says the mayor posted her arrest on social media to shame her.

"It looks like our local politicians here might be in the pocket of SpaceX and because of that are targeting community members like me that are very vocal about the environmental destruction that this industry is causing in our community," Hinojosa said. 

First Native American woman in space talks to reservation's students

First Native American woman in space talks to reservation's students

Students on the Flathead Indian Reservation asked Nicole Mann questions as she was aboard the International Space Station.


Brownsville’s current Mayor Trey Mendez declined to comment for our story. He appeared virtually at a Brownsville City commission meeting. Last week, dozens of Hinojosa’s supporters spoke out on her behalf and delivered a 1,700- signature petition to drop the charges.  

Musk has donated through his foundation $20 million to the local school districts and another $10 million to revitalize downtown Brownsville.  

SCRIPPS NEWS' JOHN MONE: There were passive aggressive statements made and very direct statements made from the podium there that all of you guys have been bought off.

JESSICA TETREAU: No, that would never happen. No, absolutely. We sit here with integrity and honor. These are volunteered positions, I’ve been doing this job for 12 years. I get paid $10 a meeting. We all come here to make Brownsville a better place than we were given.

Amongst Texas preservationists, there are concerns that SpaceX launches and its history-making tests could damage historical buildings.  

You can see the rocket launches from Port Isabel’s Old Lighthouse, and the lighthouse's marketing director Valerie Bates says you can feel them too. 

"As we stand here at the top of the lighthouse it’s six miles of unprotected space, we have open waters and marshland and a low lying residential area, here in Port Isabel, so there is nothing to absorb or protect the lighthouse from those vibrations," Bates said.

"The program agreement calls that SpaceX puts vibration sensors in the lighthouse when any event is going to occur, so they can monitor, gather that raw data on the impact on the lighthouse," Bates said. 

Commissioner Tetreau takes SpaceX at its word when it says it's being a good neighbor. 

"So they recently had a visit from the FAA, I believe it was June of 2022, and they passed everything, so they’re heavily regulated," Tetreau said.

While cheerleaders for SpaceX say it’s a beacon for progress and hope, detractors bemoan the engines for change that may possibly extinguish a beacon of history and leave locals in smoke.  

Scripps News reached out to SpaceX, including through Musk-owned Twitter, but have not yet received a reply.