Environment

Elon Musk Expands SpaceX Facility in Texas With Controversial Land Swap Deal

Written by teobrito.com

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorized a land swap deal with SpaceX, granting Elon Musk’s rocket company 43 acres of land that were heavily sought after as part of conservation efforts in the area.

On Monday, the commission announced that it had authorized the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to pursue a land swap deal with SpaceX, which would give the state around 477 acres near the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge Bahia Grande Unit in exchange for granting the company approximately 43 acres from Boca Chica State Park.

The TPWD put the deal to a vote during a meeting in Austin, where most speakers opposed the land exchange, according to The Texas Tribune. “This land is our ancestral land. These were lands that were fishing areas for my people,” Juan Mancias, the Tribal Chair of the Esto’k Gna Tribal Nation of Texas, is quoted in The Texas Tribune as saying. “If you are looking at us as if we don’t exist, we are here.”

The meeting lasted for four hours, but the decision was still put forth despite the public’s apprehension. The decision was originally scheduled for a vote on January 25, but was delayed after the agency received more than 1,039 comments against the land exchange, and only 263 that were for it.

According to TPWD’s agenda: “This acquisition would create opportunities to expand public access and recreation in the region and allow TPWD to protect and manage the property’s diverse habitats, which include lomas, coastal grasslands, and wetlands.”

Local environmentalists, however, are concerned that the land swap could pose a threat to conservation efforts in the area, with species listed under the Endangered Species Act occupying the surrounding wildlife habitat.

Earlier in 2022, an investigation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that populations of snowy and piping plovers—two shorebird species—dropped drastically near the SpaceX site. The FWS also pointed to possible negative environmental impacts on multiple sea turtle species, as well as other shorebirds, like red knots, should SpaceX expand its launch site.

Before the land swap deal was proposed, others were hoping to bid on the 477 acres of coastal habitat for conservation efforts, but were likely not be able to match what SpaceX is offering, according to San Antonio Express News.

On the other hand, the deal was backed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Chairman Jeffery Hildebrand, who publicly declared that he was committed to seeing it through it during a meeting on January 24. “I am committed to moving this process forward and completing the transaction,” Hilderbrand, the founder of Hilcorp Energy—one of the largest oil and gas companies in the U.S., said at the time.

SpaceX recently announced plans to build a restaurant and a shopping center near the company’s spaceport facility in South Texas. The company may also be looking to expand its launch pad as it gears up for regular, orbital flights of its megarocket Starship, which is currently being prepped for its third test flight.

Want to know more about Elon Musk’s space venture? Check out our full coverage of SpaceX’s Starship megarocket and the SpaceX Starlink internet satellite megaconstellation. And for more spaceflight in your life, follow us on X (formerly Twitter) and bookmark Gizmodo’s dedicated Spaceflight page.

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