Alissa Walker

Keep Bastrop Boring: Central Texas man wars with Elon Musk's Boring Company

Just after 7 p.m. on May 3, a tall, bearded man in a white Stetson strolled up to the microphone positioned in front of Kyle City Council and spilled his guts about Elon Musk and his Boring Company’s forays into Texas. On that day, the company wished to get a professional services contract approved for a $3 million railroad pedestrian tunnel to connect with Kyle's Vybe trail system.

“I can tell you with some confidence I have more experience negotiating with the Boring Company than anyone in this room,” he said, choking up, his voice cracking. “They made promises about light pollution, noise, truck traffic, fiber internet, but one year later they’ve delivered on none of those promises.”

A year ago, the Boring Company became Chap Ambrose’s neighbor, and today, he’s informing the citizens of the suburb south of Austin about his odyssey as a warning. But Ambrose isn’t from Kyle; he lives 40-plus miles northeast in Bastrop County. And since May 2021, he has been in a protracted battle with Elon Musk’s $5.7 billion company that wants to alleviate traffic by digging tunnels under cities. 

Bastrop County resident Chap Ambrose speaks to Kyle City Council on May 3 about his experiences with the Boring Company.

Bastrop County resident Chap Ambrose speaks to Kyle City Council on May 3 about his experiences with the Boring Company.

YouTube

Ironically, the Boring Company’s presence has apparently caused traffic issues on FM 1209, including accidents and multiple daily jams on the state road after it put a then-unpermitted driveway on the property. When I visit Ambrose on a sunny April morning, there are multiple minutes-long jams on the 60 mph road. He takes photos and video of everything he sees, and tsk-tsks a likely Boring Company employee — he doesn’t know, because the operation is rather secretive — in a Tesla as he speeds away.

Ambrose is worn down from his daily sojourns on his orange tractor down the hill on Walker Watson Road, adjacent to FM 1209, documenting what he feels are injustices in his small town. His daughter is sick of him talking about it: the bumper stickers, the drone shots of the facility, the billboard he purchased that reads "Keep Bastrop Boring," everything. But Ambrose will still fight, even though he’s resigned to his own fate.

“They made promises about light pollution, noise, truck traffic, fiber internet, but one year later they’ve delivered on none of those promises.”

“He's got all the resources, and I'm going to make sure he does it legally, but I think he's gonna get his way here,” he says in late April, of the world’s richest man. “However, the next spot, I want people to just be aware of what agencies exist and what they can do and how to be informed.”

Regardless of Ambrose's impassioned testimony, the contract was approved at the end of the session.

Elon Musk's Boring Company aims to alleviate traffic by tunneling under cities. The company has a presence all over Central Texas, including headquarters in Pflugerville, a test site in Bastrop County, and a project in Kyle.

Elon Musk's Boring Company aims to alleviate traffic by tunneling under cities. The company has a presence all over Central Texas, including headquarters in Pflugerville, a test site in Bastrop County, and a project in Kyle.

ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Musk in Texas

Earlier this spring, KVUE posted a story to its website with the following headline: “Elon Musk's The Boring Company eyeing development in city neighboring Austin.”

The proclamation could leave even the most ardent readers of Central Texas news scratching their heads. Which one? The maybe-maybe-not new owner of Twitter is everywhere in Texas these days, and his tunneling company alone is doing business (or trying to) in at least three Austin-adjacent locations: the headquarters in Pflugerville, the test site in Bastrop County, and now Kyle.

To say that Musk’s Texas presence — his ostentatious Cyber Rodeo at Giga Texas, his space race project in Boca Chica — is divisive is an understatement. 

Texas governor Greg Abbott and Austin mayor Steve Adler have both implored Musk to move Twitter to Central Texas from opposite sides of the aisle. But environmental groups and local residents have balked at the SpaceX site in South Texas. A Brownsville woman spray painted “gentrified” and “stop SpaceX” on a Musk mural, after which the mayor posted her mugshot on Facebook. 

Ambrose is personally conflicted, mainly because he’s an ardent Elon Musk fan. He has had a $200 down payment paid to Tesla for a Cybertruck for years, and before his wife asked him to cancel it, he had a second down payment on a Tesla Model 3 while he waited for the Mad Max-looking vehicle.

The Boring Company entrance on Walker Watson Road.

The Boring Company entrance on Walker Watson Road.

Chris O'Connell/MySA

Ambrose is also not anti-development, something he has mentioned at council meetings in both Kyle and in Bastrop County. But the way in which Ambrose says the Boring Company has ignored even minimal restrictions — and then bullied the local government after getting caught — is his issue. Permitting, he says, is kind of an “honor system” sort of deal, as long as everything is in order.

Chap Ambrose in front of the Keep Bastrop Boring billboard he purchased in April.

Chap Ambrose in front of the Keep Bastrop Boring billboard he purchased in April.

Alissa Walker

“That only works when everyone's honorable,” Ambrose says. “And these guys, that's not a value that I've seen lived out in my experience with them.”

Ambrose recorded the meeting of the Bastrop County Commissioners Court on February 28 of this year for the podcast he created outlining his struggles called Keep Bastrop Boring. On the agenda that day was a proposal from the Boring Company to build an 80,000-square-foot complex for Boring Company employees.

At the meeting, a local woman named Lynn Snider Collier spoke about her emotional struggle with the Boring Company. Her family has owned property on Walker Watson Road for 55 years, and she outlined her concerns about Musk — who she said could be considered both “a genius” and “a dunce and a villain” — and his company’s hesitance to fit in with the area’s rural environment. She pointed to the large chain link fence she says the company promised it wouldn’t erect, defoliation on the road, and the overall aesthetics of the grounds, which she compared to “inner city Detroit.” She also mentioned light pollution, a concern she shares with Ambrose, who also spoke.

Ambrose, who has made investigating the Boring Company a second full-time job, also brought up traffic concerns and potential water issues.

At the meeting — and during our interview — he said that the Boring Company had an illegal septic system and that when they moved six houses onto the property for employees and their families, they tied into city water when the rest of the area uses wells. He said he doesn’t feel safe taking his kids down to get the mail on the traffic-stuffed state road anymore, and he is constantly delayed by 18-wheelers backing in, both coming and going. 

Ambrose, who by this point had pulled thousands of pages of public documents and plans for the Boring Company, got emotional as he pleaded with the court to take another look before deciding on the permit. After thanking him for bringing the details to their attention, the Boring Company’s motion for a permit was tabled, which gave Ambrose cause to celebrate even if he knew what the eventual result would be.

Ambrose sees daily traffic backup on FM 1209.

Ambrose sees daily traffic backup on FM 1209.

Chris O'Connell/MySA

Won't you be my neighbor?

Collier and Ambrose are just two of a few concerned neighbors who have met at Ambrose's house on Walker Watson Road to discuss difficulties they've had with the Boring Company. Darrell Bartley, an expert in surveying for underground construction, has joined them on occasion. He says that he has fewer issues with the Boring Company, but does have a few neighborly concerns.

“My main concern with the Boring Company is they've got no nothing that I can see for water filtration,” he says. There is a septic tank in the middle of the property, but it’s “certainly not going to support the water that they're going to pump out of the tunnel.”

There should be a filtration system up top or else the wastewater will run off and seep into the ground, which he says could affect the aquifer quality.

“I don't know anybody in their right mind that would do that," Bartley says. "But I don't see them taking precautions for that.” He also notes that with the 80,000-square-foot complex coming, there should be a system in place for water runoff retention.

“They have none of that either,” he says.

The Boring Company did not respond to requests for comment.

Bastrop County Commissioner Mel Hamner is not troubled with what he sees from the Boring Company, at least not anymore, though he feels the pain of Ambrose and other locals dealing with development on Walker Watson Road.

“We started off a little bit rough, because they didn't understand the permit process,” Hamner says. 

He mentions Boring initially not having septic permits in order, but he says that they are now up-to-date, save for a TxDOT permit for culvert protection. The Boring Company has also been told that they need a turn lane for FM 1209 for all the 18-wheelers pulling in and out of the property. Hamner also says that the Boring Company has committed to contributing materials to help pay for the widening of FM 1209, which could be completed as early as next month.

The week after our conversation, TCEQ announced it was investigating three complaints related to wastewater and concrete production, and that it aims to complete investigations in under two months. Regardless, it appears that the Boring Company is going to get its way again.

“I don't think TCEQ is going to find anything," Hamner said in an interview with Austin Business Journal.

Ambrose makes daily trips down his driveway to check out what the Boring Company is doing next door.

Ambrose makes daily trips down his driveway to check out what the Boring Company is doing next door.

Chris O'Connell/MySA

It could go either way

For now, Ambrose just wants transparency. Hamner, caught in the middle of the scuffle, says that the opacity with which Musk operates isn’t unique to him.

“Operations don't release information until it’s good for their timing, so yes, they’re not forthcoming to the local populace,” Hamner says. “Chap wants to be a good neighbor, they want to be a good neighbor, but they're not willing to put things in writing that they can be held to.”

Incidentally, Ambrose has had one positive early incident in his saga with the Boring Company. 

In December, the site had work lights pointed upward, illuminating Ambrose’s house, which sits atop a hill overlooking the property. He called his contact at the company and within an hour, they had turned the lights off, re-positioned them, and turned them back on so that they weren’t bothering Ambrose and his family.

This is how the relationship should work, he says, but so far, this has been an exception to the rule. He wants to have a symbiotic relationship with the Boring Company, which is why he named the podcast Keep Bastrop Boring.

"It could go either way," he says, with a laugh.

Though he’s in it for the long-haul, he doesn’t like holding a grudge, and he hopes that his work leads to better oversight at the Boring Company at the very least. He’ll keep pulling documents, because they’re all public, and because he thinks the public has the right to know what Musk and his companies are doing across Texas.

“I literally have the high ground,” he says, pointing down at the Boring Company site. “And it's like … that's all I have.”