Residents of Boca Chica Village are facing pressure from SpaceX and local officials to sell their property, ostensibly so CEO Elon Musk can realise his dream of creating a modern-day company town around SpaceX’s launch facility nearby, according to the Wall Street Journal.
SpaceX has purchased more than 112 parcels of land in the area so far, public records show, which it mostly uses to house its workers. Several residents the Journal spoke with said SpaceX has repeatedly offered to buy their property. Some folks accepted the money, while others refused to give up their dream homes.
SpaceX’s buying spree in Boca Chica started in 2012, two years before it broke ground on its launchpad, and has significantly ramped up since 2019, according to the outlet. That’s when SpaceX began expanding its operations and developing a large new rocket, the Super Heavy, designed to ferry people to the Moon and Mars. Musk has expressed a desire to turn the entire area into “the city of Starbase, Texas,” as he tweeted in March, by legally incorporating the town.
Roughly 14 people not connected to SpaceX currently live in Boca Chica Village and the surrounding area, according to the Journal. One local, Celia Johnson, told the outlet she started having issues with SpaceX employees after rejecting the company’s offer to purchase her two properties located near the launch facility. One of her homes, a rental property, had a 6,057 litre water tank suddenly vanish in 2019. A few months later, she arrived to find its window shattered by a brick and evidence suggesting that someone had been sleeping there. When she and her neighbours accused SpaceX workers of being the culprits, the company denied responsibility but reimbursed her in both cases.
“SpaceX bullied us from the beginning,” Johnson said in an interview with the Journal. “SpaceX employees did what they wanted.”
Two other locals, Mary and Harvey Bloomer, said they received an email from SpaceX’s senior director of finance David Finlay in September 2020 offering them $US149,700 ($190,853) for their home. In the email, which was reviewed by the Journal, he warned that their property would frequently fall into a hazard zone “in which no civilian would be permitted to remain.” SpaceX’s launch facility has been the site of several explosive failed tests over the years.
Yet another resident, Rosemarie Workman, who retired with her husband to their Boca Chica Village home in 2004, told the outlet she received a letter from SpaceX in 2019 offering her $US155,700 ($198,502) for her home — a non-negotiable deal that the letter claimed was three times the house’s market value. When she declined, SpaceX sent at least three additional offers. The last one, which was for $US210,600 ($268,494), was accompanied by a call from Finlay, who told the couple they had a week to decide or the company would pursue a “different route.” He declined the Journal’s request for comment.
An appraiser Workman hired around the time of these offers valued her home at $US194,000 ($247,331), she said. Cameron County, which oversees the Boca Chica community, appraised the home for $US34,473 ($43,950) when SpaceX initially made its offers, but according to the county’s website that appraisal shot up to $US141,573 ($180,491) for 2021, the Journal reports.
This seems to fall in line with residents’ claims that they also feel pressured by county officials to fork over their land to SpaceX. State and local officials have historically bent over backward to satisfy SpaceX’s demands — no doubt to keep the boss man happy so he doesn’t throw a tantrum and uproot his company’s operations. The state of Texas has provided roughly $US20 ($25) million in incentives for SpaceX to expand its presence in the state. And Musk appears to be returning the favour: In March, he tweeted a pledge to donate $US20 ($25) million to Cameron County schools and $US10 ($13) million to the county’s largest city, Brownsville, to revitalise its downtown area.
However, in the meantime, Boca Chica Village residents are apparently getting screwed. Explosions from failed rocket tests have broken home windows, rained down debris, and started brush fires, according to residents who spoke with the Journal. Leading up to launches, locals say SpaceX workers leave them fliers advising them to vacate their homes in case of a potential malfunction. The company has even offered to put them up in a hotel during launches, albeit one 64 km away (gas and food expenses not included).
When a launch is scheduled, county officials shut down several beach-access points to protect public health and safety. This includes a roughly 13 km-stretch of public beach, a National Wildlife Refuge, and the only road that leads to Boca Chica. Residents told the Journal that launch-related closures have left them stranded at checkpoints for hours and SpaceX security personnel have followed them in vehicles to their homes.
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño told the Journal the county was “not working and would never work with SpaceX to harass any of the residents to leave the Boca Chica area.”
“We want SpaceX to succeed, but not at the expense of the community,” he continued. “If they think they’ll be able to take over the highway or the beach, they’re mistaken.”
Still, the county has considered invoking eminent domain to ensure the safety of Boca Chica Village’s remaining residents, he said in an interview with the outlet.
“You don’t want individuals near rocket ships being tested and landing. We don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Treviño told the outlet.
According to Texas law, to incorporate Boca Chica Village, SpaceX would have to prove to the state that more than 200 people lived in the area and secure a majority vote. If successful, SpaceX officials would secure the power of eminent domain, which it could use to eject the remaining holdouts and, yes, build Musk his modern-day company town. The man’s already suggested using interplanetary indentured servitude to realise his dreams of life on Mars, so who cares if a few Earthlings get crushed in the process?