Texas authorities threaten SpaceX with legal action over beach closures, private security

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12notes

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As usual, reading the actual document tells a very different story.

The letter is dated Friday, June 11th, (reported at 5:30pm) demanding a detailed response by 1:30 pm Monday, June 14th - 4.5 business hours is not a realistic time frame for a response in the legal world. This is the first indicator that this seems to be a publicity stunt of a county DA wanting some press coverage, not representing any real problem or any valid legal theories.

The day they were stopped, June 9th, Space X was conducting a high pressure, low temperature test on their fuel tanks - not an event you want people near if it fails. The letter failed to mention this test going on at the time to give the appearance that SpaceX just arbitrarily blocked off the road. They were stopped approximately 1250 feet from the test site, on a loop of roads that only leads to the test site. There is no other reason to travel on those roads other than to go to the test site.

It also contains this footnote:
"My staff reported that the road that should be Joanna Street appears now to be renamed Rocket Road. My staff shared that it appears part of it may have been built over and/or closed off. I am awaiting confirmation, but if this is still a county road..." - He hasn't even checked to see if it's still a county road yet, which would make the entire argument he's claiming invalid. But he **** sure wants the publicity immediately by firing off this letter two days after the "incident" without even checking any facts.

The other claim is supported only by a "Save RGV" provided log "allegedly created by the US Fish and Wildlife Service" claiming the beach has been closed for 385 hours. He didn't bother to get the log himself to verify. That should have been step one of this inquiry, well before the letter.

The letter goes on to speculate that the highway may have been closed with less than the required 14 day notice, without bothering to look up the information himself.

This is a lazy, publicity seeking, joke of a DA with no evidence who expended no effort to even begin to look up the most basic information about any of this. The burden of proof is on the prosecution, he just offers speculation and demands proof of innocence. That's not how the legal system works in this country. He had an agenda to push, he pushed it, and some local press fell for it. It's a complete non-story.
 

Rhino

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It's a public road to a publicly accessible beach, and no private company has the right to close public roads without approval from the proper authority, whether it be for 385 hours or 385 microseconds. Whether the test was scheduled or not is immaterial if they didn't get permission. And no private security guard there has the right to detain citizens on a public road they do not own or control. This may very well be a political stunt by an overeager DA, but that doesn't redesignate public roads as private, nor does it give arrest authority to private security guards on public property. Whether the DA acted responsibly or not, it doesn't alter the fact that SpaceX security exceeded their authority.
 

GeeZee

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The entire time I’m reading this I’m thinking Texas is HUGE. Why on earth did they build a test site within five miles of a public road let alone a beach? Yea I know the answer, some planning board saw the potential for $$ and said oh sure go ahead and build a dangerous rocket test site near our public beach, we’ll just deal with it as long as you bring some tax dollars.
 

Kyle Boatright

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The entire time I’m reading this I’m thinking Texas is HUGE. Why on earth did they build a test site within five miles of a public road let alone a beach? Yea I know the answer, some planning board saw the potential for $$ and said oh sure go ahead and build a dangerous rocket test site near our public beach, we’ll just deal with it as long as you bring some tax dollars.
The first reason the spaceport is so far south is launch physics. The closer to the equator you place it, the better your starting launch velocity given the spin of the earth. A second reason is that corner of Texas has low population, meaning inexpensive land and few people will be bothered. A third reason is they prefer to launch over water, and this is about the best option for that in the US. The entire Florida coast is built-out, and isn't an option.

So, the launch site went to a logical place, locals made money, locals landed jobs, etc. As to closing roads and beaches, let's get facts, not the DA's speculation. Getting wound up over speculation is silly.
 

gtae07

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The first reason the spaceport is so far south is launch physics. The closer to the equator you place it, the better your starting launch velocity given the spin of the earth. A second reason is that corner of Texas has low population, meaning inexpensive land and few people will be bothered. A third reason is they prefer to launch over water, and this is about the best option for that in the US. The entire Florida coast is built-out, and isn't an option.

So, the launch site went to a logical place, locals made money, locals landed jobs, etc. As to closing roads and beaches, let's get facts, not the DA's speculation. Getting wound up over speculation is silly.
People generally don't like rockets falling and exploding on their houses. The US and others therefore prefer to launch out over an ocean, to avoid overlying populated areas. China in particular doesn't seem to care as much, and will happily drop spent stages with residual (very toxic!) propellants all over the place. Go see some youtube videos of spent Chinese rocket stages venting hypergolic fuels after crashing to the ground.

Due to physics and the actual usable utility of satellites, most launches are going to take place on some roughly east-ish heading unless you need a polar/sun-synchronous orbit, which will go mostly north/south. A launch site on an eastern coast is ideal.

IIRC Boca Chica was intended to be something like a little resort village, but a big chunk of the land was inundated/washed away by a hurricane before it really got going. There weren't many people left and SpaceX bought them out at generally really good prices. I suspect that this area is about like the Space Coast was back in the early 60s.

Long-term I think their plans involve offshore launches from converted oil rigs, so as to cause less disruption to the local community.
 

12notes

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It's a public road to a publicly accessible beach, and no private company has the right to close public roads without approval from the proper authority, whether it be for 385 hours or 385 microseconds. Whether the test was scheduled or not is immaterial if they didn't get permission. And no private security guard there has the right to detain citizens on a public road they do not own or control. This may very well be a political stunt by an overeager DA, but that doesn't redesignate public roads as private, nor does it give arrest authority to private security guards on public property. Whether the DA acted responsibly or not, it doesn't alter the fact that SpaceX security exceeded their authority.
You clearly did not read my post or the text of the letter. Everything you are claiming as facts are only speculation by the DA who researched ZERO of those claims to gain any of the easily acquired evidence required before making these claims.

From the DA's own letter, it is clearly stated that:
The DA did not research if those are in fact, still public roads, which his own staff doubts.
If the roads are still public, the DA did not check if permission was acquired or not.
No one was arrested by private security.

Guilty until proven innocent is not how the legal system in the US works.
 

Rhino

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You clearly did not read my post or the text of the letter. Everything you are claiming as facts are only speculation by the DA who researched ZERO of those claims to gain any of the easily acquired evidence required before making these claims.
You clearly did not check the facts. You did check Twitter, but Twitter isn't exactly a paragon of truth and accuracy. However, I did check the facts. And I didn't need the letter for that post, because everything I said is a simple matter of law.

From the DA's own letter, it is clearly stated that:
The DA did not research if those are in fact, still public roads, which his own staff doubts.
State Highway 4, Boca Chica Blvd, which is the road I was referring to, leads to Boca Chica Beach, which is a public beach. Look at it on Google Maps. And if you want to rely on the letter alone, it does in fact specifically say that Remedios Ave and Joanna St where those people were illegally detained, off of Highway 4, are public roads. So the basis of what you're claiming, the letter, specifically contradicts your claim.

If the roads are still public, the DA did not check if permission was acquired or not.
Yet, according to the letter, they did check, and no such permission was granted. Page 2 specifically states that neither the county sheriff nor county commissioner's court had authorized a road closure.

No one was arrested by private security.
You may be right, but not in the way you think. Only officers with arrest authority can affect a legal arrest. In some places, private security can legally detain people on private premises until the proper authority arrives to affect a legal arrest. Private security does not have that authority on public property unless specifically authorized, which according to the DA, the guard was not. So technically you could say that no one was legally arrested because no officer with arrest authority ever affected such an arrest. Those people were however, illegally detained by private security that did not have the authority to do so, which is a felony (see page 3 of the letter).

Guilty until proven innocent is not how the legal system in the US works.
Seriously? Please show me where I claimed to be the judge and jury.

Maybe I should make my post more clear. From what we know so far:

Highway 4 is a public road to a publicly accessible beach [FACT]
However, the news report stated that beach access was closed, but the letter never mentions that.

Though not stated in my post, Remedios Ave and Joanna St are public roads [FACT]

No private company has the right to close public roads without approval from the proper authority [FACT]

They didn't get permission to close those roads [FACT]

A private security guard has no right to detain citizens on a public road they do not own or control [FACT]
Not only that, but the security guard in question did not hold any sort of Texas Security Guard license as required by law (page 2 of the letter).

As I said, this may very well be a political stunt by an overeager DA, but you've shown nothing to indicate that, much less prove it. And while I do not consider a district attorney to necessarily always be 100% truthful and accurate, I will trust them exponentially more on a question of law than some dude posting on Twitter. I trust them even more so when they cite the specific statutes involved, which they did in the letter.

There are some differences from the news story and the letter itself, most notably that the road to the beach (Highway 4) wasn't the road that was closed. It was actually two other roads that were listed in the complaint, and the two DA staffers were on those roads. I have no idea why the news report conflated that to beach access on Highway 4. I suspect that it is standard to restrict that access during actual launches, and the reporter mistakenly assumed this was a Highway 4 closure.

But I'll repeat the operative statement from my post. Whether the DA acted responsibly or not, it doesn't alter the fact that SpaceX security exceeded their authority. No amount of malfeasance, incompetence or even outright legal abuse by the DA would change that simple and irrefutable fact.
 

Rhino

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I was only responding in kind, but point taken. Thanks.
 

12notes

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I stand by my quotes from the actual letter. I won't repeat them.

The DA's staff were refused access to these two roads, Remedios and Joanna. No arrests or detainment happened. All of the small number of buildings are owned by SpaceX.
Satellite view:

They were not stopped on Highway 4, but on Remedios, and told to return to Highway 4, which was not closed. Pages 3 and 4 of the letter speculate that on other occasions, SpaceX might not have gotten adequate permission to close Highway 4. The Letter specifically states that the DA is asking SpaceX to provide proof that there was adequate notice given every time Highway 4 was closed, which the DA is perfectly capable of researching himself. The DA is speculating there was a violation and demanding proof there wasn't.

The security guard is required to licensed by the Department of Public Safety if brandishing a firearm, but, as the letter also states, "he did not appear to be outwardly armed with a firearm" at the incident. So this is more speculation that there was a violation.

The DA is wanting SpaceX to prove they are innocent without the DA gathering actual evidence of any crime or violation. That is "guilty until proven innocent".
 

Appowner

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But I'll repeat the operative statement from my post. Whether the DA acted responsibly or not, it doesn't alter the fact that SpaceX security exceeded their authority. No amount of malfeasance, incompetence or even outright legal abuse by the DA would change that simple and irrefutable fact.
And just imagine the next chapter had there been no security and some local, tourist or simple fool wandered too close to the test site and been injured?

It's pretty obvious from this thread that no one really knows the entire story. And I agree it sounds like some hick DA backed by a Beauford T Justice Sheriff is seeking some press. And why is anyone's guess.

Were I Space X I'd let it be known that we're looking at pulling the plug on that facility for a better spot a few miles south. See if Mexico would like the jobs and income. Pretty obvious Texas doesn't. Or at least that part of Texas.
 

Rhino

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So were people "detained", or just refused access?
There's a big difference.
The letter said they were "approached, stopped, and detained".

There are private residences in that area. One is on Remedios Ave. And there's a subdivision if you go further down where Joanna turns into Weems St. SpaceX does not own all the properties along that road, and they still couldn't close it without permission even if they did own all that land. I should also note that their launch pad isn't on that road. It's a couple of miles further down Highway 4. Their launch control center is on Remedios Rd. They own land on Joanna as well, but it's vacant.

Texas Code Sections 1702.161, 1702.221 and 1702.323 don't require a license just for carrying a gun. The license is also required if they are wearing anything identifying them as a "security professional." That's on page 2 of the letter.

It hasn't been mentioned, but the letter also states that SpaceX has erected barriers across the roads that allow them to block off parts or Remedios and Joanna, which they are not authorized to do (Texas Penal Code 42.03). A look at Google Maps confirms that to be the case. They have erected barriers across both those roads in several places, and some of those barriers appear to be permanent, effectively closing parts of those public roads at all times. Absent any subsequent information to the contrary, they have clearly exceeded their authority.
 

Topaz

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... It's pretty obvious from this thread that no one really knows the entire story. ...
This. And nobody here, unless they're directly involved, could. As mundane and aggravating as it seems in the Age of the Internet, we're just all going to have to wait and see how the legal system sorts this thing out. Laying blame on anyone at this stage would be premature.
 

Rhino

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This. And nobody here, unless they're directly involved, could. As mundane and aggravating as it seems in the Age of the Internet, we're just all going to have to wait and see how the legal system sorts this thing out. Laying blame on anyone at this stage would be premature.
Also factor in that news reports very often get things wrong, especially where details get involved, like their mistaken assumption that it was Highway 4 that got closed.
 

Rhino

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Cameron County has a web site where they post notices of all road closures. All of the approved closures I see are for Highway 4 and the beach, not Remedios Ave or Jonna St. And indeed, in conformance with their memorandum of agreement with local authorities, they are only allowed to close Highway 4 and Boca Chica Beach, not any other roads.

Under the authority granted to Cameron County pursuant to Texas Natural Resources Code Section 61.132 which permits the Texas General Land Office ("GLO") and the County to enter into a memorandum of agreement under the terms of which Boca Chica Beach may be closed temporarily for space launches and in conformity with the Memorandum of Agreement, contract number 2013C08253/GLO contract number 13-447-000-7916 between the County and the GLO that delineates the circumstances under which the County is authorized to close the beach and beach access points for the limited purpose of protecting Public Health and Safety during spaceflight activities and the Texas Department of Transportation authorized a Space X Roadway Closure Traffic Control Plan to perform road closures on State Highway 4;

They are allowed to effect closures on Highway 4 only, during tests or launches by using two soft checkpoints nearer Brownsville that allow residents to still reach their homes, and one hard checkpoint further down past private property (https://www.cameroncounty.us/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Press-Release-in-English-and-Spanish.03.30-31.2021.pdf). The hard checkpoint is at the intersection of Highway 4 and Eichorn Blvd, and beyond the roads mentioned in the letter, Remedios and Joanna. There is no authorization for SpaceX to close any public road other than Highway 4 or the beach itself. They're also allowed to close the parks and wildlife refuges in the area, and they have a permanent USFWS government employee on staff for that purpose. All road closures are specified to be temporary, and law enforcement is required to work with SpaceX at the checkpoints.

There was a road closure announced for June 9, the day the DA staffers visited, but it was for Highway 4 only, not for the roads mentioned in the letter where the security guard detained them. I should also note that limiting freedom of movement does legally constitute detention.

The act of keeping back, restraining, or withholding, either accidentally or by design, a person or thing.

This is the complaint that started all this:

Apparently it wasn't just road closures that the complaint was about. And interestingly enough, the MOA they have with the FAA (https://www.faa.gov/space/environmental/nepa_docs/spacex_texas_eis/media/SpaceX_Texas_Launch_Site_MOA.pdf), which was also supposedly violated, says the soft checkpoints are at the intersection of Highway 4 and Highway 1419. Presumably the 1419 reference is to Farm to Market Road 1419 (FM 1419) because there is no Highway 1419. That seems rather strange though, since that intersection is at the center of Brownsville and there are many, many roads beyond that that allow access to Highway 4. The "spanish" page of the Cameron County site (SpaceX - Cameron County) has a map at the bottom that shows the soft checkpoint at the intersection of Highway 4 and Richardson, which would make much more sense. Strangely, that page isn't in Spanish.

According to this report, Remedios and Joanna are public roads, but again, the media sometimes gets it wrong.

According to this link, SpaceX attributed the incident with the DA staffers to an overzealous security guard and vowed it wouldn't happen again.

That thread has a HUGE amount of information on the structures SpaceX is building there, including tons of info on welding, stressing and reinforcing structures, in case you're interested.

That thread also reveals the three pages of the letter found in the original link here were not the entire letter, and that there are more issues at stake (or possibly I couldn't see it all because I don't have Twitter). You can view the other three pages at the link, but it seems SpaceX is allowed only so many hours of closures per year, and they've already exceeded that limit. There's an issue with whether or not they've submitted the required beach mitigation information as well.

A link to the MOA between SpaceX and Cameron County can be found in post 367 in that thread.

So it appears the incident with the security guard was an isolated occurrence involving an overzealous employee exceeding his authority. But it seems that isn't the only concern being raised here. Given the fact that SpaceX brings valued employment and other benefits to the area, I have no doubt they'll eventually work this out. But for the time being, it seems there's a significant problem with dotting all the "I's" and crossing all the "T's". The DA made it clear he wasn't being adversarial, but he had to address the violations being alleged since that's his job, and his letter did a pretty good job of outlining all the statutory references and requirements. I see no evidence so far that he was acting rogue or seeking publicity. Someone raised real and valid legal concerns, and his position legally bound him to investigate. I personally have some minor suspicion that the people submitting the complaint may have been seeking publicity, but I have no evidence to substantiate that. The concerns they raised were legally justified, though some of it may be matters of interpretation, and the rest will surely be worked out. Some of this is discussed in that last link if you want more insight.

12notes, my apologies for being short with you. I have no excuse for that.
 
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Rhino

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I'm going to walk back my statement about some of the SpaceX land being vacant. They've been doing a TON of building down there, so it's unclear what may have been placed on that property since the satellite shots were taken. There's definitely been a lot of stuff put up at the launch pad and landing pad that doesn't yet show up in the satellite photos. They've also erected a tracking facility further down Highway 4 than the launch control facility, just outside the site of the hard checkpoint on Highway 4 at Eichorn Blvd. I'm starting to think that might be an interesting place to visit. I wonder what kind of limits they place on boat traffic during a launch.
 

Voidhawk9

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I wonder what kind of limits they place on boat traffic during a launch.
There is a no-go zone during launches. You can watch from the edge of the keep out zone on South Padre Island.

And yes, SpaceX is building infrastructure down there like there's no tomorrow, satellite photos are in most cases far out of date.
 
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