SpaceX courtship quietly continues as FAA report nears - Brownsville Herald: News

default avatar
Welcome to the site! Login or Signup below.
|
||
Logout|My Dashboard

SpaceX courtship quietly continues as FAA report nears

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Monday, January 20, 2014 7:00 am

When now 20-year-old James Murray was a student a Porter High School he remembers his classmates saying they couldn’t wait to leave Brownsville once they graduated from high school and college.

There was nothing in this border town to keep them grounded. No big employers to make them want to stick around.

With the prospect of Space Exploration Technologies Inc., known as SpaceX, possibly building a rocket launch pad outside Brownsville, Murray hopes to land a job with the company and stay put so he can raise a family where he grew up.

“Them coming to Browns ville actually creates an opportunity to do what I want, to do what I love, to be able to stay and raise my children where I have lived,” said Murray, a Brownsville native and third-year physics major at the University of Texas at Brownsville.

Nearly two years since SpaceX announced that Texas is one of three sites under consideration for the launch pad, officials on the local, county and state level have courted the company, offering deals to lure the private commercial company to set up shop here on Boca Chica Beach. Texas has reportedly offered $15 million in incentives to lure SpaceX to South Texas.

Gov. Rick Perry late last year signed House Bill 2623, which would temporarily close Boca Chica Beach for rocket launches in anticipation of SpaceX operations there. The beach closures would only be allowed at specific dates of the year.

Billionaire Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, has repeatedly said that Texas is the leading candidate for his company’s proposed rocket launch site.

RISING HOPES

Murray is an Arecibo Remote Command Center Scholar and the chief technician for the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy Multipurpose Electronics Laboratory, or CARAMEL, at the university.

According to UTB, his current research involves mostly electronics and “is designing and building the analog receiver for the Low Frequency All Sky Monitor (LoFASM), which is a radio telescope designed and built by the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA).”

Such education and programs are a natural fit for aerospace and technology careers, further exciting students and officials about a future with a company such as SpaceX in Cameron County.

However, as for now, new information about the status of the proposed rocket site is scarce, as officials and the public wait for the project’s final Environmental Impact Statement to be released by the Federal Aviation Administration, which will determine how the construction of a launch pad near Boca Chica Beach would affect the area environmentally. On the heels of the final report, SpaceX could then announce its decision on whether to come to South Texas.

“A location decision will be made once all technical and regulatory due diligence is complete,” SpaceX spokeswoman Hanna Post said. “We look forward to selecting our commercial orbital launch complex this year.”

THE COMPETITION

Murray like others has been monitoring SpaceX’s status to see if the company will indeed select Cameron County as its newest launch site.

“I’ve been getting bits of information here and there, and I feel like it is more a waiting game. I think we have so much to offer here. I think it’s more of waiting for an official answer as opposed to actual competition within the other places,” Murray said.

Texas is one of four sited being considered by SpaceX. Other possible locations include Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico.

The proposed Texas site is at the eastern end of State Highway 4, about three miles north of the Mexican border and about five miles south of Port Isabel and South Padre Island.

Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos said the county continues to work on the project though it may be considered in the “holding phase” by some. The county continues to iron out details in agreements it might have with SpaceX, Cascos said.

“We have agenda items at least once a month, maybe twice a month, to discuss SpaceX in case anything occurs between meetings we discuss something. We are still looking at the economic development packages trying to fine tune some numbers on our end. We just want to make sure that the county has done everything that we need to do. We don’t want any hiccups,” Cascos said.

For example, the county continues to look at what type of tax abatement it can offer SpaceX, which is something the county does for other companies considering setting up business in the county, Cascos said.

The county judge said the county has invested a lot of money in the project — which nobody sees — in internal fees it pays its legal department to draft agreements.

“All that took a lot of people hours legally from our attorneys in Austin to our attorneys here,” Cascos said. “There is no romance in it and there’s not construction, but you’ve got to do it in order to get to the construction phase.”

Although published reports indicates SpaceX continues to buy land in rural Cameron County — some 87 acres has been reported — officials, don’t want to read too much into the purchases, at least not yet.

“We are hearing good, positive things and I think the amount of acreage they have acquired, I don’t want to read more into it then what it is,” Cascos said. “This is a billion-dollar company and them spending $50,000 on land may not be a big deal. I don’t read too much into that, but it is positive.”

EXCITEMENT IN THE CITY

Those positive vibes are apparently circulating around Brownsville.

Pat Hobbs, Workforce Solutions’ executive director, recently said when he hears people talking about SpaceX they mention “when” the company comes and not “if” the company comes.

“That’s encouraging,” Hobbs said.

And the wait could soon conclude. Hank Price, spokesman for the FAA, said in a statement the final EIS is expected to be released in late winter.

“The FAA is closing out consultations with other federal agencies in developing the preliminary final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) — which goes through a 30-day cooperating agency (other federal agencies) review,” Price said. “After that, the FAA will develop the final EIS and put it out to the public. The agency hopes to have the Final EIS out to the public by late winter.”

That timeframe cannot conclude soon enough for Gilbert Salinas, executive vice president for the Brownsville Economic Development Council, who has been working on the project for nearly three years.

Salinas said economic developers are extremely competitive, always watching to see what their competitors are doing, locally, nationally and internationally. He said one of the things they don’t like to do is wait, which is exactly what BEDC officials have to deal with on this project.

“It is a wait and see,” Salinas said.

The BEDC has done everything needed on its part, Salinas said, and so have the other parties involved. Although the BEDC has worked on many project across its 20 years, the SpaceX project could be the “game changer” for Brownsville, officials say.

“It is not the biggest in capital investment, it’s not the biggest in jobs, but it is definitely the biggest just because of the industry that it’s in,” Salinas said. “It is the biggest in the sense, that it is the biggest game-changing project that we have worked on.

“In economic development, when you have a project that can literally change the face of your community, change the face of your region, turn it for the better, for the best, that is usually called a game changer. It is definitely the biggest, most important game changing project that we have touched,” Salinas said.

Follow us on Facebook

Pet Central

pets

Having a pet is a lot of responsibility, and we’ll help by giving you lots of tips and tricks! More >>

Fitness

Fitness

Our fitness articles will help teach you how to work out with gym- and home-based exercises. More >>

Crosswords

Crosswords

Enjoy the crosswords challenge in our free daily puzzles, from the harder Sunday crossword to the quicker daily. More >>

Sudoku

Sudoku

Every Sudoku has a unique solution that can be reached logically. Enter numbers into the blank spaces so that each row, column and 3x3 box contains the numbers 1 to 9. More >>




Online Features

Pet Central

pets

Having a pet is a lot of responsibility, and we’ll help by giving you lots of tips and tricks! More >>

Fitness

Fitness

Our fitness articles will help teach you how to work out with gym- and home-based exercises. More >>

Crosswords

Crosswords

Enjoy the crosswords challenge in our free daily puzzles, from the harder Sunday crossword to the quicker daily. More >>

Sudoku

Sudoku

Every Sudoku has a unique solution that can be reached logically. Enter numbers into the blank spaces so that each row, column and 3x3 box contains the numbers 1 to 9. More >>