SpaceX offers local buyouts; Homeowners will have two weeks to respond

A fire engine idles next to SpaceX’s experimental prototype Starhopper as crews prepare for a proposed 150 meter hop by the craft Monday afternoon at the company’s facility in Brownsville. The test of the Starhopper was aborted in the last second. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

SpaceX says that although it did not initially foresee “significant disruption” to residents of Boca Chica Village when Boca Chica Beach was first identified as a potential spaceport site several years ago, the company now realizes that disruption is becoming increasingly difficult to minimize, and therefore is extending buyout offers to property owners.

In a Sept. 12 letter sent to the less than a dozen residents of Boca Chica Village, also known as Kopernik Shores, the Hawthorne, Calif.-based rocket company expressed its interest in acquiring “certain residential properties … located in and around the Kopernik Shores area within the designated South Texas Spaceport area at Boca Chica Beach.”

The company is offering property owners three times the appraised value of their properties, offers that are non-negotiable, and owners have two weeks from the date of the letter to decide whether to sell.

“ SpaceX sincerely appreciates the tremendous support that it has received from the Boca Chica Village residents and the local community since the groundbreaking of its South Texas launch facility almost five years ago,” the letter reads. “Since then, SpaceX has sought to conduct its operations in a manner that minimizes disruption to the nearby residents of the Village to the extent practically possible.”

Boca Chica Village is roughly 1.5 miles west of the launch site, built on the spot where a ceremonial groundbreaking took place in September 2014. The site was originally intended as a commercial spaceport, though the company’s plans for Boca Chica have evolved. Now Boca Chica is being used for testing and development of SpaceX’s next-generation, Mars-bound spacecraft, “Starship.”

Cameron County began imposing closures of Boca Chica Beach and S.H. 4 near the launch site when static fire engine testing began in April. The most recent closure took place on Aug. 27 with a successful 150-meter flight of SpaceX’s Starhopper, the first Starship prototype.

On Aug. 24, at the request of the Federal Aviation Administration, Boca Chica residents received hand-delivered alerts from the county recommending that they evacuate the area before the scheduled launch, or at the very least exit their homes during the operation in the event of an “overpressure event” that could break windows in case of a rocket malfunction.

A low-altitude “hop” of the prototype on July 25 ignited a brushfire that spread into an adjacent wildlife refuge and eventually consumed 100 acres.

The letter continues that “it has become clear that expansion of spaceflight activities as well as compliance with (FAA) and other public safety regulations will make it increasingly more challenging to minimize disruption to residents of the Village.”

“ Given the increased disruption to Boca Chica residents and our commitment to complying with public health and safety guidelines, SpaceX would like to acquire the properties located in the Boca Chica Village.”

The company said it is “committed to a fair and equitable process” and that it had commissioned independent appraisals of the fair market value of the properties and buildings based on their size and condition and comparable sales in the area.

Along with the letters, property owners received an individual appraisal of their properties with supporting documentation and a contract, which, if signed and returned within two weeks, will generate a check in under 30 days, according to SpaceX.

“ The amount of this offer is not negotiable,” according to the letter. “SpaceX believes that it is very important to offer the same deal to all residents using a consistent approach for determining the amount offered for each property. This is the fairest approach.”

The company said it would process the necessary paperwork and cover all buyer and seller closing costs for each deal. The commercial real estate firm JLL is managing the process, according to SpaceX.

As an extra incentive, the company is offering Boca Chica Village property owners VIP access if they agree to sell.

“ SpaceX recognizes that your close proximity to its operations has offered a unique opportunity to experience at close hand the development of what will be the world’s most advanced rocket,” the letter reads.

“ In appreciation of your support, we will offer all residents of the Village who accept the purchase offer the opportunity to continue their connection with the development of Starship by extending an invitation to attend future private VIP launch viewing events that are unavailable to the public.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com