Elon Musk’s SpaceX is said to be making its final attempt to buy out the remaining residents of Boca Chica Village to build a private resort to launch rockets into orbit – but the last 10 inhabitants of the Texas hamlet are refusing to budge.
Negotiations are said to have reached a crucial moment, with the company hinting that it may ‘pursue alternative approaches’ to advance with its ambitious plans for the area, according to Business Insider.
Musk began buying up homes and land in the area in 2015 to expand his SpaceX empire and build a test site for his Starship-Super Heavy program, a 394-foot-tall reusable rocket system.
When complete, the Starship could slash the cost of reaching space a hundredfold, while also enabling frequent and relatively affordable access to orbit, the moon, and Mars, as well as hypersonic travel around Earth.
But that dream, in addition to building a ‘resort’ for employees and important guests around the launch site, recently hit a major stumbling block.
The project’s future may now rest solely on persuading all who still live in the tiny town – most of whom are elderly or retired – to leave. And for them, Musk’s mission to Mars comes at a heavy cost for their once tranquil life on Earth.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is said to be making its final attempt to buy out the remaining residents of the Boca Chica Village to build a private resort for rocket launches – but 10 locals are refusing to budge from the Texas hamlet
When complete, the Starship will be a reusable heavy launch vehicle capable of carrying up to 100 people to the Moon and Mars
Musk has been buying up homes and land in the area since 2015 to expand his SpaceX empire and build a test site for his Starship program
Until 2015, Boca Chica was a quiet hamlet of just 35 houses and a tiny chapel, spread out along a dusty street
SpaceX attempted a wholesale buyout of the village in September 2019, claiming to offer homeowners three times what their property was actually worth as added incentive to yield.
Though many protested, insisting the offers were ‘low-ball’, more than half accepted in the following months.
Now, a year on, only 10 Boca Chica inhabitants remain.
SpaceX said last week that it made what it claimed its ‘best and final offer’ to those still standing firm, as reported by Business Insider.
DailyMail.com interviewed a number of those residents in July, all of whom accused Musk and SpaceX of attempting to bully them out from their homes using threats and aggressive tactics.
They say they have been made repeated offers well below the market value of their properties and have been subjected to multiple visits from David Finlay – SpaceX’s Senior Director of Finance – who they say puts pressure on them to sell up.
And they say the company lied about the danger posed to them by Starship launches and is instead turning the village into a place for workers to live – a claim borne out by the extensive renovation activity photographed by DailyMail.com.
One resident even compared the company’s behavior to that of the South African apartheid regime which used threats, intimidation and segregation to exploit the poor black majority for the benefit of the wealthy white minority.
Retired social worker Celia Johnson, 76, who has lived in the village since 1992 said in July that she had rejected every offer SpaceX made for her two properties.
She said at the time: ‘Elon Musk was born and raised in South Africa and that’s where they had apartheid. That’s where they had the rich white folks use the minorities to make the money and he’s never changed his thinking. He’s here simply for the money.’
Georgia Teel, a 54-year-old drugs and alcohol counselor, meanwhile, told DailyMail.com at the time that though the price she was offered won’t even cover her mortgage she decided to sell ‘because he was going to take it anyway’.
Through tears, Teel told DailyMail.com that the repeated offers and threatening letters had put a strain on her family relationships, culminating in the decision to leave.
‘We turned it down four or five times,’ Teel said. ‘Me and my husband are having so many issues with that and it caused a whole lot of family stuff.
‘But we’ve agreed to sell now because he’s going to take it. We’re going to lose everything – the money is already invested.
‘For him [Musk], it’s nothing – just a check, that’s it. But it’s a lot of hard-earned money for someone who’s under that pay grade.’
SpaceX now owns most of the town but the remaining 10 residents say they aren’t going anywhere
Residents say they have been offered much less than the value of their homes and that SpaceX bases its valuations on similar but abandoned homes
One resident said the first time a ship exploded it broke here window and SpaceX replaced it the next day
Musk has gradually built his Space X test pad on either side of the Village and has been devaluing the homes and lowballing the residents, according to locals
At the end of the residential street you can see a large gray building belonging to SpaceX that surrounds the village
The company’s latest and ‘final’ rounds of offers expired on Friday and residents say that SpaceX is unlikely to secure any further buyouts.
Several residents told Insider that the terms of the final offer were almost identical to, if not worse than those that came before and wouldn’t come close to getting them a similar home in a similar area.
Most of the modest properties have a market value of between $40,000 and $60,000 according to county records but residents said they have been offered much less and that SpaceX bases its valuations on similar but abandoned homes.
Retired social worker Celia Johnson, 76, has lived in the village since 1992 and, as of July, had rejected every offer SpaceX has made for her two properties so far
‘There’s just no way in hell we can replace that place,’ Rosemarie Workman, who has lived on Weems Street since 2004 with her husband, Jim, told the outlet. ‘And when somebody gives me a one-week notice, it’s a trap.’
‘”You’ll have one week to do this or that, and then we’ll do something else”? That’s a threat in my book,’ she continued.
SpaceX’s latest – and conspicuous – home-purchase drive comes after the recent airing of a VICE documentary about the Boca Chica site and Musk’s desire to fly Starships from the site to orbit next year.
Finlay reportedly started calling residents again about home purchases on September 23, two days after the unflattering documentary aired.
The 45-minute film documents the officials who helped pave the way for SpaceX’s presence in Boca Chica, and the locals who’ve lived through the company’s evolving activity in the town.
Musk first considered Boca Chica as a candidate for his rocket launch site in 2011, when the beachfront town, located on the tip of southeast Texas, was a quiet hamlet of just 35 houses and a tiny chapel, spread out along a dusty street.
By 2014, following a series of quiet property purchases and years of navigating over procedural hurdles, the company persuaded the Federal Aviation Administration and other officials to signs of on its plan, titled ‘SpaceX Texas Launch Site Environmental Impact System.’
Residence say the company lied about the danger posed to them by Starship launches and is instead turning the village into a place for workers to live
A launchpad for the Starship has been built just behind the beach and is the scene of two failed launches – one in March and one in May. On both occasions, the test rockets exploded
In addition to the resident’s themselves, their homes are also deemed a liability. Each one that SpaceX doesn’t own increases the chance that a launch accident could exceed $25,000 in property damage
What was once a quiet town has now become an industrial testing site thanks to Musk and his team of scientists
Musk has previously hopes to move launches off-shore for noise pollution and safety reasons, however the technology is currently lacking and so for now SpaceX is landlocked
Gloria Teel, a 54-year-old drugs and alcohol counselor, says the price she was offered won’t even cover her mortgage but decided to sell ‘because he was going to take it anyway’
The company said Boca Chica would become its first commercial US spaceport, from which it would launch no more than a dozen orbital missions a year.
‘We’re talking about something that’s really the big leagues here. This would be kind of a commercial version of Cape Canaveral,’ Musk said during testimony before the Texas House Appropriations Committee in March 2013. ‘It’d be an historical first in the world. It would be of very great significance both to the local economy as well as to the world.’
The degree to which the remaining Boca Chica residents could hinder SpaceX’s future remains uncertain.
However, should they choose to do so, they would be a liability to SpaceX, for if the company was to suffer an accident in the launch of its Starship rockets – which carry 9 million pounds of propellants – the consequences could be grave.
Musk has previously voiced hopes to one day move launches off-shore for noise pollution and safety reasons, however the technology is currently lacking and so for now SpaceX remains landlocked.
The company saw its FAA-mandated launch insurance requirements balloon more than 30 times over to $100 million ahead of the second launch of its partly fueled Starhopper Starship prototype.
The requirement was increased after hazard analysts suggested an extremely rare worst-case scenario had the potential to harm people in the village.
Starhopper’s first launch at in March ignited a large fire in the wildlife refuge surrounding the site, which led to the burning of more than 130 acres, documents show.
Aerial images taken in the immediate aftermath showed the flames had come within around 1,000 feet of structures at the eastern end of the village.
It’s Starship prototype also suffered a failed launch in May. On both occasions the rockets exploded.
Johnson says she has seen a marked decline in wildlife since SpaceX arrived. ‘There were all kinds of birds, you have no idea,’ she told DailyMail.com
One resident just wishes Musk had chosen somewhere else, telling DailyMail.com: ‘I wish he’d chosen another village.’
In addition to the resident’s themselves, their homes are also deemed a liability. Each one that SpaceX doesn’t own increases the chance that a launch accident could exceed $25,000 in property damage, a threshold that could trigger an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Every home in the village is less than two miles away from SpaceX’s beachside launch pad.
Cheryl Stevens, 59, told DailyMail.com in July that she has been forced to turn one of her two bedrooms into a ‘bunker room’ with boarded up windows, because of the botched launches.
She said: ‘The first time, the ship exploded, it broke my window. SpaceX did replace it the next day.
‘The second time, I didn’t even know they were going to test but I heard the siren and saw the Sheriff’s Department so I grabbed my dog, my pillows and my phone and went to my bunker room.
‘I heard this loud boom and all of my windows rattled. Then it left me semi-deaf and a little bit stressed out because I didn’t know what was happening with it.’
Stevens added: ‘It was like an earthquake. It was actually quite terrifying because they had been testing, testing, testing and that day there was a little kaboom and I thought that was it.
‘We were headed outside when it happened, and it was like ‘oh God’. It was terrifying.’
Before its first attempted launch of the Starhopper on August 25, SpaceX reportedly requested that sheriffs hand out warning notices recommending that residents and their pets go outside their homes about 10 minutes before lift-off to avoid the risk of a flying glass, adding that police sirens would blare at that time.
Cheryl Stevens, 59, told DailyMail.com in July that she has been forced to turn one of her two bedrooms into a ‘bunker room’ with boarded up windows, because of the botched launches
Starhopper’s first launch attempted on August 26 was abandoned, however is successfully flew around 500 feet into the air and landed again the following day
While SpaceX continues with its push to remove the last of Boca Chica’s inhabitants, the company has been knocking down the houses it has purchased, while remodeling others into employee residences
One of the sold up homes is shown above in this image captured by DailyMail.com in July
‘We are working with the residents of Boca Chica Village because … it will end up needing to get cleared for safety a lot of times,’ Musk said during a briefing about Starship in September 2019. ‘I think the actual danger to Boca Chica Village is low, but it’s not tiny. So therefore we want super-tiny risk. So probably, over time, it’d be better to buy out the villagers.’
Instead of private negotiations, the company said it offered everyone three times the value of their home, with that value determined by appraisers hired by SpaceX.
Residents revealed to Insider last year that Musk told villagers that he dictated those terms because he wanted the deals to be fair and not favor residents with better negotiating skills or resources.
But inequalities eventually did arise as Musk later permitted the appraisals to be negotiable in September 2019.
Homeowners with the financial means were able to hire more expensive appraisers in hopes of boosting their properties’ base value. In some cases, that allegedly increased buyout offers from the low hundreds of thousands up to $1 million, according to Insider.
Meanwhile, those who had to settle for far less costly local appraisers, mostly received offers from SpaceX worth around $150,000.
But some residents say that money isn’t everything to them, and Musk is misinterpreting their wanting to stay as a negotiation tactic, when that isn’t the case.
‘I kind of think he thinks money can buy everything, and we should be glad we’re getting the three times, and we should just go,’ resident Mary Bloomer told Vice TV. ‘But, no, money can’t buy everything. So here we are.’
While SpaceX continues with its push to remove the last of Boca Chica’s inhabitants, the company has been knocking down the houses it has purchased, while remodeling others into employee residences.
The company has also used old rocket parts to transform an old corner store into an outdoor restaurant, located a mile and a half away from the launch site.
The latest additions to the area join a growing number of Airstream trailers, fire pits, kayaks and other amenities, which all comes as part of an effort to transform the region into a private resort.
‘Aiming to make it super fun!’ Musk tweeted of the project back in August.
He said the resort would be ‘mostly for employees,’ but added it would ‘support public access whenever it’s safe & secure.’