"Eventually larger rockets must be built," Musk said. "The logical thing is to build near the launch site."
Bob Mitchell with the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership has witnessed what the Johnson Space Center in Houston can mean for an economy.
"Once you get someone like SpaceX here, it brings the cottage industries that support it," he said.
Addressing the issue of economic impact, Musk told state legislators that SpaceX will be spending $300 million to $500 million over the next decade at Cape Canaveral.
In Texas, the Brownsville Economic Development Council estimates that SpaceX would be an $80 million capital investment, bring 600 direct jobs and $50 million in annual salaries as well as 10,000 to 15,000 visitors per launch. Salinas said the numbers were compiled from SpaceX and the council's independent economic analysis.
Opponents dismiss those numbers.
Cheryl Stevens, an Austin activist who grew up in Brownsville and has a house near Boca Chica, said she is organizing opposition to SpaceX.
She questions the number of jobs that will actually be created and whether local residents will get the high-paying ones.
"The only jobs I can see it will create is construction jobs," she said.
Stevens speculated that the engineers might commute to the Rio Grande Valley from Houston or beyond.
"They are only talking about a few launches a year," she said. Then again, she worries what would happen if the launch site is successful: "Once they are here, they can do what they want."
Stevens said South Texas officials have "steamrolled" the project, adding that Boca Chica "has always been the poor people's beach."
The most repeated objection is about what SpaceX might do to the environment.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge is 10,000-plus acres of rare coastal habitat, including mangrove marshes, salt flats, shallow bays, beaches and dunes. It serves as a wildlife corridor between Mexico and South Texas that is home to endangered species from the ocelot and jaguarundi, both small wild cats, to piping plovers, a shore bird.
Kemp's ridley sea turtles nest at Boca Chica beach in the spring and summer.
Pat Burchfield is director of the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville and director of the U.S.-Mexico Sea Turtle Association.
"My No. 1 concern is the wildlife and its long-term survival," he said. "If I thought it was going to be a problem, I'd be standing up and opposing it."
He said SpaceX officials were well prepared when he met with them to discuss how to mitigate the impact on the wildlife.
"They had done their homework," he said.
He noted that Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge co-exists with the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida, but opponents counter that the Florida wildlife site is 14 times the size of the South Texas refuge.
Boca Chica has remained undeveloped largely because of the expense of extending water and electricity to the beach. For example, Boca Chica Village, the small subdivision about 3 miles from the beach, has one electricity line and the residents must truck in water.
Over the years, Burchfield said, developers' grander plans for Boca Chica never materialized, but development remains a threat.
"This would be the least intrusive thing that could happen out there," Burchfield said of SpaceX.
The Sierra Club has raised issues about the impact on wildlife and the environment, but it has taken no position on SpaceX locating at Boca Chica until the FAA completes its final review. But Environment Texas opposes it and challenges the notion that a SpaceX facility would protect the area.
"This is a false choice," said Rachel Stone, a lawyer with Environment Texas. "We think it's entirely inappropriate to build a rocket launch pad right in the middle of a national wildlife refuge and state park."
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