EDITORIAL: On the table

SpaceX neighbors weigh safety, fairness in offer

SpaceX continue their test on their Starhopper at Boca Chica Beach, successfully hovering 500 feet above the launch site and safely landing on the SpaceX Launch Pad on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

Plans for the SpaceX facility at Boca Chica Beach are evolving, and that could change the prospects for residents of Boca Chica Village, a housing community located less than two miles from the launch site.

That’s well within the three-mile safety zone NASA has imposed for its launch sites such as Cape Canaveral in Florida. That distance was set for the Saturn V rockets that sent the Apollo capsules to the moon. SpaceX plans more powerful rockets to propel ships to Mars. The company says those rockets will be tested and could even launch from the Boca Chica site, and they will require wider safety zones.

SpaceX last month sent letters to Boca Chica Village residents, offering to buy their property. At least some residents, however, have said they want to stay.

Initially, the letters gave residents two weeks to accept the offer, and said the stated terms were not negotiable. However, the term reportedly has been extended to allow time for new property valuations, which probably will affect the offered prices.

We hope the process will be fair and all sides deal in good faith, and that SpaceX will not ask Cameron County to invoke eminent domain — the forcible taking of the property, presumably for the greater public good — and force the residents from their homes.

The letter states that in addition to a purchase price the company says is above appraised value, sellers will receive VIP access to view launches from within the protected SpaceX facility.

Currently, the residents are being asked to evacuate the area for rocket tests, and there are many reasons why that evacuation is needed. The first and most obvious is the danger of possible failure. A rocket explosion could destroy the homes — not only from the concussion but from shrapnel.

Even successful launches pose dangers, as we found when flames from a July 25 rocket test ignited a brushfire that burned 100 acres nearby.

Fire isn’t the only concern. The homes face possible damage from the pressure from both the exhaust and the noise. The rockets produce more than 200 decibels of sound; 140 dB produces physical pain, and at higher levels sound waves actually are felt as shock waves that can damage buildings.

Longtime Rio Grande Valley residents might remember seismic testing that a gas company conducted in the area a little more than a decade ago. Those tests cracked walls, shattered windows and loosened foundations.

Those seismic “thumps” pale in comparison to the shock waves a rocket launch produces.

Residents of Boca Chica Village, which originally was known as Kopernik Shores, have endured a lot over the years. The subdivision was build decades ago, too far out to receive utility service, and residents even had to endure years of truckedin water after their tank collapsed. Forced removal would be a final indignity that the residents don’t deserve.

We hope their dealings with SpaceX over their future, whatever it might be, are constructive and beneficial for all concerned.