Brownsville residents will have to wait a little while longer to receive news about SpaceX’s plans to build a launch pad here.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration has never scheduled a specific date for the release of the final environmental impact statement, which will help determine whether SpaceX can build a rocket site in Cameron County, its release has been much anticipated. A federal official said the report might be released in May.
FAA spokesman Hank Price said the agency is working with the consulting agencies to “resolve any potential issues.” The agency is conducting reviews of information contained in the draft environmental study and addressing public comments. The FAA hopes to release the final report next month, Price said.
Price said the FAA has never set any specific date for the release of the final environmental impact statement, though The Brownsville Herald had anticipated it to be released this month.
State Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said, “A delay is no major cause for alarm. The federal government is painstaking in its investigations and studies. We have laid the ground work at the local and state levels to bring the project to Cameron County. This is just another step in a long process that will hopefully bring new and great things to the (Rio Grande) Valley.”
Oliveira serves as chairman of the House Committee on Business and Industry. He authored House Bill 2623, which allows counties and the General Land Office to temporarily close a beach or beach access point, the measure required to conduct space launches on the Texas coast.
Nearly two years since SpaceX announced that Texas is one of four sites under consideration for a commercial rocket launch pad, officials at the local, county and state level have courted the private commercial company, offering deals to lure it to set up shop on Boca Chica Beach. Texas reportedly has offered $15 million in incentives to lure SpaceX to South Texas.
Gilbert Salinas, vice president of the Brownsville Economic Development Council, said he was not surprised to hear that the final report won’t be released until next month.
“The federal government is doing what they have to do in regards to working the EIS, though it may be a little frustrating to see that it is getting delayed, the process is actually going a little quick,” Salinas said. He pointed out that most EIS’s take anywhere from four to five years to complete.
“I think they (the government) are just being extra careful in producing that particular report. I don’t think it is a bad thing for the project. I don’t think it will be detrimental to the project, it is just taking a little bit longer and more precaution on their behalf,” Salinas said.
The EIS draft released in April 2013 reviewed 11 resource areas for potential environmental impacts created by the proposed construction and operations there. The FAA looked at compatible land use; properties; noise; visual resources and light emissions; historical, architectural, archaeological and cultural resources; air quality; water resources; biological resources including fish, wildlife and plants; hazardous materials; socioeconomics; natural resources; and secondary impacts.
Although the FAA draft report found “no impacts would occur” that would result in the FAA denying a permit, it did provide a summary of potential environmental impacts from the proposed action by SpaceX.
On the heels of the final report, SpaceX might announce its decision on whether to come to South Texas.
Texas is one of four sites being considered by SpaceX. Other possible locations include Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico.
The proposed Texas site is at the eastern end of State Highway 4, about three miles north of the Mexican border and about five miles south of Port Isabel and South Padre Island.
Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos earlier said the county continues to work on the project though some might consider it in a “holding phase.” The county continues to iron out details in agreements it might have with SpaceX, Cascos said.
Although published reports indicate SpaceX continues to buy land in rural Cameron County — some 90 tracts of land have been reported — officials say they don’t want to read too much into the purchases, at least not yet.