SpaceX Seeks OK to Expand South Texas Launch Facilities

SpaceX requested the permit modification so it can move ahead with the expansion and addition of pads for testing, orbital launches and landing; towers for loading payloads into rockets; and other requests.

A Starlink mission launch
A Starlink mission launch.
(TNS) — SpaceX wants to modify an existing permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its Boca Chica launch facilities so it can expand those facilities, which will impact mud flats and wetlands.

USACE is soliciting public comments on the proposed modification and expansion to inform its decision making on whether to grant the company's request. The deadline to submit comments is April 20.

SpaceX requested the permit modification so it can move ahead with the expansion and addition of pads for testing, orbital launches and landing; "integration towers" for loading payloads into rockets; and "associated infrastructure, stormwater management features and vehicle parking," according to the USACE public notice soliciting comments.

The proposed expansion of the launch area, a stone's throw from where S.H. 4 dead-ends at Boca Chica Beach, would affect nearly 11 acres of mud flats, almost six acres of estuarine wetlands, and more than a quarter-acre of non-tidal wetlands. A new landing pad would affect 2.2 acres of salt flat and a much smaller area of high marsh, according to USACE, while the roughly 50-vehicle parking area would be built on 0.19 acres north of S.H. 4 directly across from the launch area.

SpaceX told USACE that its proposed siting of new parking and other infrastructure was done to avoid or minimize potential impact to wetlands, though additional opportunities for lessening those impacts are limited due to the "nature of the project," the need to comply with Federal Aviation Administration licensing regulations, and the "location of jurisdictional resources in the vicinity of the project" — state-controlled land, for instance.

USACE notes that the area surrounding SpaceX's existing site and proposed expansion is primarily used for recreational purposes and includes Boca Chica State Park, the Boca Chica tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, South Bay Coastal Preserve, the Boca Chica unit of the Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area, Brazos Island State Park, Isla Blanca Park and the Palmito Ranch Battlefield National Historic Landmark.

In addition, the state of Texas owns 200 feet of right-of-way along S.H. 4 from approximately six miles inland to the beach, notes USACE.

The agency said the decision whether to grant SpaceX a modified permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impacts. All relevant factors will be considered, including "conservation, economics aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historic properties (and) fish and wildlife values.," according to USACE. The agency will also weigh flood hazards, land use, navigation, water supply and conservation, water quality, recreation and "in general, the needs and the welfare of the people," USACE said.

In addition to soliciting comments from public, USACE said it wants to hear from federal, state and local agencies and officials and other interested parties. Submitted comments will be used in preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment (or more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement) in keeping with the National Environmental Policy Act. Comments will also be used to gauge the level of public interest in SpaceX's proposal and whether a public hearing should be held, USACE said.

The agency also encouraged those submitting comments to provide specifics and details supporting their arguments, whether in favor of or against the proposed changes.

"For accuracy and completeness of the record, all data in support of, or in opposition to, the proposed work should be submitted in writing setting forth sufficient detail to furnish a clear understanding of the reasons for support or opposition," USACE said.

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