by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

Over the many years I have been involved with trying to lower the decibel level in our world, and many of my writings have focused on the growing din in urban communities. However, with respect to the situations in which I have served as an expert witness, I found myself speaking of noise pollution in Wyoming, Montana, Texas, and New Zealand. Thus, I am very aware that noise pollution is not an urban issue solely. Some of the people who have solicited my services as an expert witness have said they sought out quieter places to live in, never expecting a motocross raceway to be built near their homes or a farm nearby that would be turned into a late-night venue for social events. I have come to the conclusion that noise can follow you anywhere.

During the pandemic, I have read many articles that have noted that more birds can be seen in cities and more dolphins are visible in the ocean. Human-made noises do indeed impact adversely on the lives of other species that share this earth with us and with reduced noises during the pandemic, these species were able to take hold without having to deal with the noises that usually intrude upon their lives. Some of us began to understand that humans are only ‘one’ species living on this earth.

Thus, the article in the New York Times by Edgar Sandoval and Richard Webner about Boca Chica, a small Texas town that is now home to Elon Musk’s private space company, Space X, caught my eye. A huge gray rocket was set up a mile from ranch-style brick homes. Even though residents are given warnings before rockets are launched, they still “put on heavy-duty headphones to block some of the noise” and still had to deal with “the roar and trembling (which) are so powerful that they can blow windows inward.”

The article adds that the blasts from the rockets could have a “lasting effect on this ecologically rich area, home to a number of endangered species, like ocelots and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.”

So how did this town become home to SpaceX – it was the promise of an economic boost. Boca Chica is a short distance from Brownsville, Texas and the people of Brownsville would now have jobs associated with SpaceX. Furthermore, younger space professionals would be attracted to a town that offered good jobs provided the town would provide them with modern homes. Thus, many of the senior members of Boca Chica took buyouts and left the town and “white houses with solar-paneled roof tops were built for the new residents. Some families have chosen to stay and deal with the noise, hoping that their windows won’t shatter.

Now, how will the new residents feel about the noise? I have also learned that individuals who live and work for airports complain less about the noise. This does not mean that the noise may not have an adverse effect on their well being.

There is an organization in downtown Brownsville that is pushing back on the expansion of SpaceX, believing that low-income families in Brownsville will be forced to leave. But this group believes that the promise of money from SpaceX organization will win out. We are dealing with innovation and space exploration here and the noise part of the story is secondary.