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As SpaceX Ramps Up Activity In The Rio Grande Valley, Local Concerns Grow

Pieces of debris are seen in a National Wildlife Refuge after uncrewed SpaceX Starship prototype rocket SN11 failed to land safely, in Boca Chica, Texas, U.S. March 31,2021.  REUTERS/Gene Blevins
Pieces of debris are seen in a National Wildlife Refuge after uncrewed SpaceX Starship prototype rocket SN11 failed to land safely, in Boca Chica, Texas, U.S. March 31,2021. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

Local activists in the Rio Grande Valley are frustrated with Elon Musk’s SpaceX operation in Boca Chica, just east of Brownsville.

Their concerns range from blocked public access to parks and beaches to long-term ecological damage to region-wide gentrification.

Local leaders, including Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez, regularly post on social media to announce meetings and tours with SpaceX officials while providing updates to local media about the developing relationship between the company and the region.

In a recent interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Mendez expressed excitement that housing prices in the area were beginning to “shoot up” as a result of SpaceX and the third-party projects that it has already attracted to the area. Those projects include a newly formed out-of-region venture capital firm dedicated to funding space startups and a media channel that will broadcast only news about the space industry.

But rocketing housing prices are only the first effect of what many in the Rio Grande Valley see as a coming wave of region-wide gentrification. Local activists say the enthusiasm that leadership is showing for SpaceX is not balanced with conflicting community interests.

Bekah Hinojosa, a longtime resident and a political organizer with Another Gulf Is Possible, said the city has been especially difficult to reach to discuss SpaceX, which recently promised a donation of $10 million to revitalize downtown Brownsville.

“Right now we’re trying to get an actual city town hall so that way the city and the county will actually hear from the public,” Hinojosa said. “We know that Cameron County and Brownsville are actively meeting with the Elon Musk foundation, meeting with SpaceX officials. The public, we don’t feel heard at all.”

At the last Cameron County Commissioners Court meeting, County Judge Eddie Treviño cancelled a scheduled public comment period. The county later issued a statement to the Port Isabel Press that the confusion had been over a technology issue.

“In one of the recent Cameron County meetings, there was a glitch, and emails from the public were deleted,” Hinojosa explained.

Now, activists in the region are shifting to more creative strategies to address the evolving political climate in the Rio Grande Valley. Claudia Michelle Serrano, an organizer with Las Imaginistas, a Brownsville based art collective, said local nonprofit organizations are coming together to work collaboratively to educate a local public on an increasingly complex situation.

“We have some rapid onset economic development that’s happening right now, and our communities are not ready to be able to handle that,” Serrano said.

Over the weekend, Serrano coordinated with several groups to broadcast a parody response to Elon Musk’s appearance on "Saturday Night Live" meant to entertain and educate a bilingual audience. The hour-long episode was streamed live on social media by Trucha RGV, a recently formed non-profit news organization in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We decided this was a good opportunity for us to put our voices out there in a fun and engaging way,” Serrano added.

Serrano explained that in the coming months groups such as the Democratic Socialists of America will continue looking for opportunities to collaborate to amplify their voices as SpaceX’s presence expands further.

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Copyright 2021 Texas Public Radio

Pablo De La Rosa