SpaceX buys property, asks Cameron County to close streets near launch site - The Monitor: News

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SpaceX buys property, asks Cameron County to close streets near launch site

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Posted: Saturday, August 17, 2013 11:41 pm

The stars seem to be aligning for Cameron County, which aims to lure SpaceX and its promise of a space port near the Gulf of Mexico.

The space exploration firm has requested that Cameron County close portions of two streets toward joining land that would be required for rocket-launch operations near Boca Chica Beach, the Valley Morning Star found.

Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is considering a location near Boca Chica Beach for a rocket launch facility. The site in Cameron County is said to be the lead contender among others throughout the country.

“We’re doing everything from our part that needs to be done in order to make sure that our area is selected by the SpaceX folks,” County Judge Carlos H. Cascos said Friday.

The day prior, Cascos joined county Pct. 1 Commissioner Sofia C. Benavides and Pct. 2 Commissioner Ernie L. Hernandez in a Cameron County Commissioners Court session, first holding a public hearing and then voting to close portions of Remedios Avenue and Joanna Street in Spanish Dagger Subdivision near Boca Chica Beach.

The order to close a portion of the streets state that Commissioners Court approved this on “petition” by Dogleg Park LLC.

Dogleg Park LLC is the SpaceX company under whose name land purchases have been mostly made here, the Star found. NASA defines dogleg as a directional turn made in the launch trajectory to produce a more favorable orbit inclination.

The developments come amid SpaceX’s continuing land buys in Cameron County, the firm’s conduct of a land survey, a proposed memorandum of understanding between the county and the Texas General Land Office, an amendment to the county’s dune protection plan, the state’s commitment of $15 million and other legislation, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s estimate that the final environmental impact statement on SpaceX’s proposal would be completed within four months.

Regarding the developments and their significance, SpaceX said in a statement Friday: “We appreciate Cameron County and the many partners throughout the state and the south Texas region that are working together to support SpaceX’s efforts toward a possible commercial orbital launch complex.”

SpaceX is considering the development of a complex at the Cameron County site for the launch of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital rockets and other smaller reusable suborbital vehicles. All Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches would carry commercial payloads, including satellites or experimental payloads, for delivery to the International Space Station.

“FAA expects to finish the final EIS (environmental impact statement) before the end of calendar 2013,” FAA spokesman Hank Price said Friday.

Cascos is cautiously optimistic: “The state, county, the Brownsville Economic Development Council, everyone is pulling together and going in the same direction. We’re hearing positive things. I don’t know what other cities are doing, but I think we are going to have a very attractive comprehensive package to get SpaceX.”

“We hope they select Cameron County as their final destination.”

ROAD CLOSURES 

The launch site under consideration is off State Highway 4, about a quarter-mile from Boca Chica Beach and about 3 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. The site is about 5 miles south of Port Isabel and South Padre Island.

The control center would be located slightly inland, to the west of the vertical launch area, and the facilities would be built on land that SpaceX owns or would lease.

SpaceX already has purchased 12 lots in Sections I and II of Spanish Dagger Subdivision, located on the southwest side of Laguna Madre Beach Subdivision, west of Highway 4, public records show.

Seven of the 12 lots, where the control center area site would be located, are between a portion of Remedios Avenue and Joanna Street, as shown in public records and a survey provided to Commissioners Court that the engineering firm of Mejia & Rose, Inc., conducted on Dogleg Park LLC’s behalf. The survey is dated July 3.

Dogleg Park’s petition for the closure of a portion of the two streets, which allows for the joinder of the tracts of land, was posted at least 20 days before Thursday’s scheduled public hearing at the Cameron County Courthouse in Brownsville, at the intersection of San Martin Boulevard and Joanna Street, and at the Bait Stand at the intersection of LBJ Boulevard and Hwy 4.

No one spoke during the public hearing. Cascos, Benavides and Hernandez approved the petition. Pct. 3 Commissioner David Garza and Pct. 4 Commissioner Dan A. Sanchez did not attend the meeting.

“The closure of the portions of the streets is just part of the overall package that we are doing. We will follow protocol at all times, then weigh requests with the overall plan that we believe is in our best interest,” the judge said.

The rest of Remedios and Joanna streets were left intact, not blocking property owners from access to their lands.

MEMORANDUM AGREEMENTS AND AMENDMENT

The Commissioners Court on Thursday also approved a proposed memorandum of agreement with the Texas General Land Office (GLO) regarding temporary beach-access restrictions and closure due to space launch and flight activities.

The court also approved an amendment to its dune protection plan needed to accommodate spaceflight activities, which also will be presented to GLO for its approval.

The proposals note that the Texas Natural Resources Code Section 61.132 effective May 24 this year permits the GLO and county to enter into an agreement regarding terms under which Boca Chica Beach may be closed temporarily for space launches.

Documents state that pursuant to the Texas Natural Resources Code, and in order to protect the public health, safety and welfare, Commissioners Court by order may temporarily close a beach in proximity to a space flight launch site or access points to the beach on primary or backup launch dates.

It also is noted that the court would not be able to close a beach or access points on peak days — meaning the Saturdays and Sundays immediately before Memorial Day, Memorial Day, the Saturdays and Sundays that fall between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Labor Day, and July 4 — without GLO’s approval.

Furthermore, under the proposals, the county would ensure that alternative beach access at Isla Blanca Park, Andy Bowie Park and other access points within the county would remain open during closures related to space flight activities.

“The biggest issue was coming into an agreement with GLO in terms of beach closure. That was a big challenge so that we would not be in violation of the Open Beaches Act. It is something we have been addressing for months. When you are dealing with several agencies, everyone wants to make sure that the public’s interests are covered. I think we are good to go,” Cascos said.

“GLO still has to sign it. I hope we don’t have hiccups,” the judge added.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT

The Federal Aviation Administration has been analyzing the potential effects of SpaceX’s proposal to launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical launch vehicles and a variety of smaller reusable suborbital launch vehicles from the county site.

Price, the FAA spokesman, said that FAA and the Office of the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is still responding to public comments from the draft Environmental Impact Statement and preparing the final EIS on SpaceX’s proposal.

He said that all the responses would be published in the final EIS.

Eperez-trevino@valleystar.com

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