Why SpaceX wants a tiny texas neighborhood so badly (fading lifestyles)


EXCERPT: . . . Boca Chica is an unincorporated community of about 40 houses, mostly one-story homes with soft-orange brick exteriors, on the southernmost tip of Texas. There are no shops or restaurants or amenities of any kind around, including municipal water pipes; Cameron County regularly trucks in gallons of water, which is stored in outdoor tanks. Many residents are retired; they spend summers in northern states and flock south for the winter like migratory birds, eager for the peaceful stillness of the coastline.

The only way to reach the village is via State Highway 4, a two-lane road that runs through mostly empty land. It originates to the west, in the city of Brownsville [...] The residents of Boca Chica first learned of SpaceX’s plans at a public meeting ... most people spoke in support of the project, which SpaceX promised would bring hundreds of jobs to the area. To residents of Boca Chica Village, the whole thing felt like a pep rally. For Brownsville, one of the poorest cities in the country, SpaceX seemed to offer an unlikely dream: the opportunity to turn a border town into a 21st-century space city.

[...] The road closures became a fact of life in Boca Chica. So did the intrusions of SpaceX operations, which reached a new intensity. Nearly every day, beneath the sound of wind blowing through dry grass and the staccato chirps of blackbirds, there was the clanging, whirring, and buzzing of construction equipment, the high-pitched beeping of trucks in reverse and cranes climbing high, the music the workers put on to entertain themselves. The work lasted through the night, beneath the glow of industrial lights. On windy days, pieces of plastic wrap drifted away from the construction site and stuck to the yucca trees. Some residents started calling and emailing county offices, state officials, federal agencies—anybody who could tell them whether any of this was sanctioned.

All the residents I spoke with—close to a dozen—told me a version of the same story. Before SpaceX, the village felt like a coastal paradise, contentedly dislodged from civilization. At night, the only light came from the distant hotel towers on South Padre Island to the north and the Milky Way overhead. Now the place felt almost claustrophobic.

[...] The village residents had suspected that SpaceX would want them out someday. But some were still shocked by the letters, especially after they read what was inside. SpaceX had commissioned an appraisal of their properties, without their knowledge, and was now offering them three times the resulting market value. The process would be handled by JLL, a commercial real-estate company. SpaceX gave the residents two weeks to respond.

Some signed the contracts, but many didn’t want to leave. [...] SpaceX can’t force the residents to leave, but the county can. In 2013, county commissioners established a corporation “to assist in the promotion and development of a spaceport project” in Cameron County. Under Texas law, the corporation has the authority to exercise the same right that lets governments take over private property and compensate its owners.

[...] Mary McConnaughey, watching her neighbors trickle away has been difficult. She felt a twinge of sadness when she saw SpaceX workers trimming the grassy median on her street. “It’s just something that we’ve always done,” she said. [...] Cameron County is a far cry from Cape Canaveral, but the infrastructure to support a departure gate from Earth is slowly emerging. The county has spent millions of dollars to spruce up a park at the southern end of South Padre Island as a prime viewing spot for future launches, installing an amphitheater, event center, pavilion, and boardwalks. SpaceX has begun inviting people to Stargate, the control center in Boca Chica, to meet and interview with recruiters.

[...] As SpaceX plants roots in Cameron County, the company seems to be growing impatient about the people—about 20—who don’t want to leave. In mid-January, David Finlay, SpaceX’s senior director of finance, came to town and stopped into the homes of residents who haven’t sold. “He sat in my living room and he apologized because they’re making us leave,” but he said SpaceX needed them out soon, Garcia Johnson told me. When she asked about eminent domain, Finlay said he could tell Texas officials that SpaceX might leave if it can’t maintain operations here, which could prompt the county to start eminent-domain proceedings. Garcia Johnson hasn’t changed her mind.

SpaceX declined to discuss the specifics of its negotiations with residents in Boca Chica and the possibility of eminent domain, and emphasized its commitment to its Texas locations. [...] Like Garcia Johnson, McConnaughey never wants to give up her home in Boca Chica, but she would do it for what she feels is a fair price, enough to find a similar home with the views and the quiet she has enjoyed in the village for years. But she can’t imagine being anywhere else, especially now. She loves documenting what SpaceX is doing, even though she knows the company wants her to leave.

[...] McConnaughey recognizes that her desires might seem difficult to reconcile, but she doesn’t feel conflicted about her hobby [...] She doesn’t do it for the love of SpaceX. [...] She does it for the nasaspaceflight.com community, who encouraged her to post more pictures when she first started, and for other space fans who don’t have the view that she does.

[...] McConnaughey, Garcia Johnson, Workman, and others said they’ll stick it out for as long as they can, but they know that Boca Chica has become something else, something harder to recognize. It is a strange existence, to move through the familiar routines of their days without knowing how many are left in their shifting paradise. A security guard near the big antennae told me that some of the residents wave to him during their daily walks, and he knows some of them by name. I asked him whether he knew that SpaceX was trying to buy their homes. “I thought the county made a decision for them already,” he said. (MORE - details)
The problem for SpaceX is that the federal government won't let them conduct orbital launches with people living so close to the pads. Either the people have to go, or launches don't get government approval.

Only a small handful of people live there year around. Many homes are vacant, owned by absentee owners. Others are only occupied seasonally. But everyone knows everyone and it's apparently a very tight group.

I do think that SpaceX should treat them better. Pay them enough to pay for an equivalent home elsewhere. 3x appraised value sounds good, but appraised value is often much lower than market value. (And almost everywhere else on the gulf coast is more expensive than there.) Pay for Mary (and Maria, and Nomadd and the others) to find another equally good place, then let them visit and stay in their old properties for as long as possible. (I expect the whole village will be torn down eventually, as the rocket plant expands.) Provide them with site passes and company IDs and make them SX employees to document work there for history's sake. SpaceX archivists.

Let Mary and company continue doing what they love doing.

How many homes in Boca are actually occupied even part of the year? Maybe 20? A guess.

Elon could pay $500,000 for each one, which would pay for one of the best homes on the market in Brownsville or perhaps something quieter up towards Corpus Christi. Or spend part of it for a more modest house and put the rest into savings/travel/whatever. Hell, giv'em a free Tesla while you are at it. 20 x $500k = $10 million. Pocket money to a guy like Elon. Make him a lot of friends.

Hand Mary and Nomadd their SpaceX company IDs and let them continue coming on the property to take their photos. Mary's a free one-woman PR department all by herself, that has space-nuts and aerospace professionals alike all around the world transfixed. SpaceX would have to pay big bucks for similar publicity, leaving them with something much more corporate and half as authentic. Elon knows this I think. One of his motives is to inspire people and get them interested in space exploration again. Don't screw it up Elon.

You can get a house like the one below for $285,000 in Port Isabel, very near Boca Chica.

[Image: ISr1uxjtylhm8d1000000000.webp]
This is the map of who owns what in Boca. Yellow is SpaceX property, green is occupied homes. I count 14 or 15.

(Note the ghost area in blue. I believe that this was one-time planned development on land that was later submerged in a major hurricane several decades ago. Now it's a wetland. Boca Chica village of today is just a fragment of a larger planned community that never really happened.) But there are homes and people who moved there because they liked the quiet and the beach about a mile away. Now they are literally in the middle of a rocket-shipyard.

Some, like Mary, realized that's something that nobody else on Earth can say and this represents an extraordinary opportunity to document it to an eager world. People in Australia, Europe, Asia and South America are all fascinated by her photos and her solid intuition about what's interesting from an engineering perspective. Her photos have been projected in briefings at NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Missions Directorate. People in Houston, at the European Space Agency and Cape Canaveral are paying attention. (Many of them think that Elon is crazy, but they can't ignore what he's doing.)

[Image: 1612525.jpg]

Stargate (light green down at the bottom) is labeled a tracking center, but that's not exactly right. It's not technically part of SpaceX at all but belongs to the U. of Texas. It's kind of a mix of a radio astronomy graduate research thing and a technology incubator. (It's where SpaceX held its job fair.) The tracking work is more over at the parabolic dishes by Boca Chica village. I believe that while SpaceX waits to track Starships and Boca launches, it uses the dishes to communicate with its hundreds of Starlinks. Stargate might get some use of the dishes when SpaceX isn't using them, but I believe that Stargate receives a data feed from the giant Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico too.

An older picture of Stargate. SpaceX has expanded across the grass in the foreground and there's a big-top tent there where coils of stainless steel are stored. The new Vertical Assembly Building and the two Giant Tents are behind the photographer's location. Lots of activity is starting to engulf Stargate too.

[Image: Cameron_STARGATE.jpg]
Yeah, they need to just cough-up the extra dough and special privileges for the hold-outs and cut the unfolding drama short. Might send a bad message of getting rewarded for being obstinate to those who signed quick. But Cameron County needs its Astro-Port pronto so it can get up those tourist signs echoing "Firefly" and other cowboy space operas (Martian pilots with Texas drawls on the "The Expanse").
(Feb 21, 2020 07:17 PM)Yazata Wrote: Now this is just ugly... is this what SpaceX wants the tiny town for? To turn it into a resort?


Wonder if Elon's going to notify the guests that they're staying in a dangerous and inhospitable location. Sounds like the worker community will either be safely near Brownsville or situated somewhere in between there and SpaceX Village.


SpaceX Village is apparently being planned right on top of Boca Chica Village [...] Carlos Cascos, the former judge of Cameron County, told Business Insider he did not recall any plans for a SpaceX Village or another worker community in an agreement the county signed around 2013.

Maria Pointer, who recently sold the home she shares with her husband, Ray Pointer, to SpaceX, said [...] she found the job posting "shocking" and "saddening."

Pointer said that during a private meeting with fellow residents and Musk on September 28, the CEO recommended they sell and move because of safety issues posed by Starship. (The vehicle may harbor about 9 million pounds of propellants — nearly 50% more than NASA's Saturn V rocket used to launch moon-landing missions.)

"Elon was 3 feet from me, and he looked right down at me, and he said, 'You won't want to live here; it'll be inhospitable,'" she told Business Insider. "I hope he didn't know about this when he told me that it'd be inhospitable. I hope that was previous to this plan. Because if he knew this plan at the time that he told me that, then it was outright lie."

[...] A person with knowledge of the matter, whose identity Business Insider verified but who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said Musk sent a companywide email over Thanksgiving weekend calling for employees to relocate to the Brownsville area and try to build an exciting community there.

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