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RGV organizers demand FAA to restart public comment period for SpaceX’s South Texas launch plans

SpaceX's Elon Musk gives an update on the company's Mars rocket Starship in Boca Chica
Callaghan O'Hare/REUTERS
A prototype of SpaceX's Starship spacecraft is seen before SpaceX's Elon Musk gives an update on the company's Mars rocket Starship in Boca Chica, Texas U.S. September 28, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Lee esta historia en español

Organizers in the Rio Grande Valley have collected petitions demanding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restart the public comment process on its environmental analysis of SpaceX’s Brownsville facilities.

The Sierra Cluballeged the FAA ignored the Valley’s Spanish-speaking community by not providing its draft analysis in Spanish and by not offering adequate translation services during a public hearing held last October.

The Sierra Club also claimed the FAA notified the public only three days before the hearings that Spanish translation services would be provided during the hearings.

On an FAAweb page detailing SpaceX’s Brownsville facilities, the executive summary of their draft environmental review, written public comments and a presentation given during the FAA’s public hearing were posted in English and Spanish. But the Spanish versions were posted after the public hearing.

“It’s not like it gave more people a chance to make a public comment, it’s just in Spanish,” Emma Guevara, Sierra Club’s Brownsville organizer, told TPR. “And that’s kind of messed up. Like, so, what, you have to speak English in order to participate?”

Last October, the Sierra Club and several RGV organizations filed a formal complaint with the FAA's Civil Rights Office. Guevara says they haven't received a formal response yet. In a written statement, the FAA told TPR that they were working to finalize a response to the complaint and made note of the Spanish-language material now available on its website.

The groups also asked the FAA to meet with the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, whose ancestral lands SpaceX has built on.

SpaceX plans to launch the largest rocket in the world from its Brownsville facility in a suborbital flight. It also plans to expand their site by nearly 20 acres, into neighboring federal and state wildlife and nature reserves.

Valley organizers criticized SpaceX’s place in the reserves in the past, particularly after several test launches ended inexplosions, sending debris as far as neighboring South Padre Island.

The FAA is less than a week away from potentially deciding whether SpaceX’s launch plans need more environmental review. If the FAA decides to issue an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is a more thorough environmental analysis, it could take years to complete.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told reporters in February that in that case, the company would move their suborbital flight to their launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The FAA now plans to post their decision on June 13. The FAA has delayed posting their decision several times since last December, citing the 17,000 written comments and several changes SpaceX made to its launch plans.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

Gaige Davila is a reporter for Texas Public Radio's Border and Immigration Desk, working from his hometown, Port Isabel, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley.