BASTROP, Texas — Farmer Steve Hipe is worried about what will happen to his landscape nursery if Elon Musk’s infrastructure company succeeds.
Musk’s Boring Company plans to dump up to 142,000 gallons of sewage into the Colorado River and through an on-site spray field each day, and dozens of the controversial billionaire’s new neighbors raised concerns during a a busy public hearing on Tuesday evening.
“Will I be able to use the pond water and not kill my trees?” Hipe asked the Boring Company’s environmental consultant. “We are not a big company like all of you. We are a family farm.
Another resident was concerned that Bastrop was going the way to Austin, where you can’t throw a ball into the river for your dog without fear of fatally poisoning him. Others worried that groundwater contamination at the new site could threaten their drinking water, or that the spill could expose vegetable farms or rice paddies downriver in the region to new contaminants.
Many have wondered why a company owned by a so-called environmental champion wouldn’t find a way to recycle the sewage, rather than dumping it in Colorado.
Many, including Bastrop Mayor Connie Schroeder, wanted Musk’s companies to funnel sewage into the public system, rather than dumping it themselves.
Some people at the hearing, however, felt that letting Boring Company control its sewage was a fair price for the city to host a top company. The Boring Company aims to build zero-emissions tunnels for electric vehicles to reduce pressure on urban transport systems, although it has only completed such a company so far.
“Where there are people, there will be sewage,” said Ron Whipple, treasurer of the Bastrop County Water Control and Improvement District. “We can’t stop progress.”
It is common for large businesses or housing estates to generate sewage, treat it, and then discharge it into local streams and rivers.
The Boring Company’s permit application, first filed by Gapped Bass LLC on its behalf in July 2022, would allow the company to build its own wastewater treatment facility for restrooms, break rooms and the bistro. on site at the corporate city that Musk is building in Bastrop. The permit would allow Boring to spray the sewage in the fields and discharge it into the river.
The discharge rate of 142,000 gallons per day is not very high by local standards. The city itself dumps about 5 million gallons a day into the river, state environmental officials told the crowd at Tuesday’s hearing. A single sewage treatment facility in Austin, 30 miles upriver from Bastrop, is licensed to discharge some 75 million gallons a day.
Still, most viewed Musk’s Boring Company with suspicion, given its record of brash moves and apparent disinterest in following local permit regulations.
It’s a tricky position for many in the laid-back central Texas town, which sports a distinct libertarian streak that seems to match Musk’s eco-capitalist mindset. SpaceX’s Starlink program, which connects rural areas to high-speed internet service using low-orbit satellites, serves hundreds of homes in the region. Many of the mogul’s new critics were self-proclaimed fans before he moved to their town.
“I love Elon Musk,” Sean Hensley told HuffPost, before asking state environmental officials to reject the Boring Company’s wastewater treatment permit “unless Elon Musk and his kids don’t come swimming in the Colorado River every day.”
Since setting up shop in Bastrop two years ago, the Boring Company has breached permit requirements for its septic system and rainwater drainage, according to Bloomberg News. He built a driveway too close to a major road after the state Department of Transportation denied his request, then asked permission to keep the driveway where it was.
Thanks to this series of violations and apparent disregard for regulations, many are now wondering if a small town like Bastrop has the power to guarantee that multibillion-dollar corporations like the Boring Company will play by the rules.
“Texans want business. Texans want to be friendly. But they also want you to be friendly,” said Bastrop farmer David Barrow. “There’s no reason for the rich to come and do what they want and then ask for forgiveness. Everyone else gets permits and goes through the system.
Chap Ambrose, a Bastrop resident who lives across from the Boring Company’s main construction site, said he plans to challenge the permit with state environmental officials.
“This sewage permit is a big deal,” Ambrose said. “I just don’t trust this company to build public infrastructure based on what I see.”
The Boring Company did not send any executives to the meeting to speak on its behalf. Instead, the crowd heard from Rajiv Patel, the environmental consultant who filed the permits on behalf of Gapped Bass, one of several limited liability companies that Musk’s companies have used to buy land in the region.
Patel tried to assuage neighbours’ concerns, saying 97% of sewage would come from residential use, even though the Boring Company has applied for a hybrid permit that includes industrial discharge. He said what little industrial wastewater the site would generate would not come from tunneling, as many residents suspected, but from using jet streams to cut metal.
The company only wants the permit because no infrastructure exists to treat sewage at the Boring Company’s rural site, Patel said. Eventually, he said, the Boring Company plans to route the sewage into the public system and hand over the treatment plant to local authorities.
“The plan we’re going to talk about today is a step on the roadmap,” Patel said, noting that the company plans to hire several hundred engineers. “We hope that this permit will allow us to start hiring in the near future.
But Patel surprised the crowd when he mentioned the proposed plant would also treat wastewater generated by a SpaceX facility miles away in Austin, a previously undisclosed detail.
And at times, Patel’s relentless optimism seemed to annoy the audience. When a resident asked if the sewage would affect aquatic wildlife or degrade the river’s fisheries, Patel argued that more sewage would improve the local ecosystem.
“From our point of view, the treated water that goes into the river will add water,” Patel said, prompting mocking laughter. “It will add water to help wildlife.”
Many residents felt similarly skeptical of Texas regulators. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has only scheduled the meeting after State Senator Sarah Ekhardt (D-Austin) requested itaccording to the Wall Street Journal.
Although the Boring Company and SpaceX are both expected to generate wastewater for the proposed plant, the state will not review any of those companies’ compliance history, TCEQ official Sarah Johnson told the crowd. The agency only reviews the claimant’s story, she said ― who in this case is Gapped Bass, a company set up two years ago to buy land in Boring.
TCEQ officials have repeatedly declined to specify the penalties Musk’s companies could face if they release excessive pollutants or exceed permit limits. The maximum administrative penalty for water violations is currently set by law at $25,000 per day.
Whipple, treasurer of the Bastrop County Water Control and Improvement District, was confident state regulators would keep the river safe, saying, “Elon Musk is not known for his work. bad quality.”
“There’s a lot of fear out there,” Whipple said. “But this is treated wastewater. People leave out the “processed” part.