Local authorities in the Boca Chica, Texas, area have issued a warning to SpaceX over having its private security guards close beaches and roads in the area without authorization from government officials. Cameron County officials had received complaints of closures of local roads and the relatively undeveloped Boca Chica Beach when SpaceX was going to conduct a test launch.
SpaceX currently has authorization to close local beaches for up to 300 hours a year for improved safety on days when it is going to conduct a test at the facility, according to an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration. Local authorities say that SpaceX has already closed the beaches for 385 hours this year. Recent mishaps while conducting high-altitude launch tests have caused shrapnel from the Starship prototypes to fall on local beaches, to the annoyance of locals and environmental activists.
Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz sent a letter to SpaceX stating that the company and its employees could face prosecution for incidents related to its closure of public roads. The district attorney’s office had received complaints that residents were barred from using public roads by SpaceX’s security personnel. While investigating the matter on June 9, employees of the district attorney’s office were allegedly “approached, stopped and detained” by a security officer wearing a “tactical bulletproof vest” while using a public road near the launch facility.
The letter indicates that the county had not authorized a road closure on that day and the security guard did not have the required license from the Texas Department of Public Safety. SpaceX blamed that and similar incidents on an “overzealous security guard” but has otherwise not issued any other comments. The alleged incident could lead to charges of obstructing a highway or passageway, a Class B misdemeanor, and impersonating a public officer, a third-degree felony. The district attorney asked SpaceX to respond with legal justification for its actions, although it was not clear whether SpaceX had done so.
The allegations are apparently the result of a complaint by a local environmental advocacy group known as Save RGV. Save RGV spokesperson Mary Angela Branch, a resident of nearby city Port Isabel, said that she investigated the matter on her own after a friend told her that SpaceX appeared to be blocking access to local roads and beaches without authorization.
“I don’t know how they’ve gotten away with all of that,” she told a reporter from CNN.
Despite the economic benefits that SpaceX’s launch facility can provide and Elon Musk’s $30 million in donations to community improvement projects and education in the area, some Cameron County residents have expressed dissatisfaction with SpaceX outside of the complaints about road and beach closures. A few Boca Chica residents accused SpaceX personnel of harassing them after they turned down offers for their homes, for instance. SpaceX has denied the allegations. Elon Musk has indicated that he would like to establish a “company town” called Starship near the launch facility and may be eyeballing Boca Chica for it.