South Padre Island kicks off holiday events

On Friday, December 6, the City of South Padre Island welcomes the public as they kick off the holiday season with their Christmas Tree Lighting, at SPI City Hall from 5:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. After the Tree Lighting ceremony, the 31st Annual Christmas Parade will follow from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ]

The parade will travel on Padre Boulevard, starting from Mars Lane and ending at Kingfish Street. Debbie Huffman, Parks and Recreation manager for the City of South Padre Island, stated, “There are 58 entries this year. The judging will take place in front of the Padre Island Brewing Company. The prizes awarded will be 1st Place $500, 2nd Place $300, 3rd Place $200 and 2 finalist $100 each. We are honored to have Gabriella Garza and Michael Scott from KRGV Channel 5 as the emcees this year.” The City of South Padre Island Parks and Keep SPI Beautiful Committee organize the parade.

On Saturday, December 7, the annual Lighted Boat Parade will be held from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. There will be several designated viewing areas throughout the route. The route will start at South Point Marina in Port Isabel and judging will take place at The Painted Marlin Grille on South Padre Island. There will be a $500 cash prize for the top boat in each category. Other prizes include hotel night stays and gift cards from Island businesses.


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Sea Turtle, Inc. to host annual Wassailing with the Turtles

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Visitors of this coastal city will soon be able to celebrate a few holiday festivities with its permanent sea turtle residents.

Sea Turtle, Inc. will host its free annual Wassailing with the Turtles get-together Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the facility’s Education Complex.

During the holiday event, guests will be able eat appetizers, drink wassail and sing Christmas carols to the non-releasable sea turtles at the facility.

“ We usually have this evening event to enjoy the sunset out on the bay and to sing to our sea turtle named Merry Christmas,” said Sanjuana Zavala, Sea Turtle, Inc.’s Marketing and Public Relations Officer. “A lot of members from the community always like to stop by to catch up and take some photos for the holidays.”

During the event, visitors will also be able to do some holiday shopping at the facility’s gift shop.

Attendees will receive a 10 percent discount if they bring an item on Friends of Animal Rescue’s Christmas wish list.

The nonprofit’s next Christmas event is scheduled for Dec. 14.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be available for pictures at the facility from 11 a.m. to noon.

Additionally, there will be a cookie decorating station for children.

The event is free with the purchase of admission.

Friends of Animal Rescue Christmas Wish List
• Kongs
• Litter
• Bully sticks
• Clothes dryer
• Cat scratchers
• Heavy duty leashes
• Plastic water pitchers
• Harnesses and collars

WHAT — Wassailing with the Turtles
WHEN — Thursday, Dec. 12 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
WHERE — Sea Turtle Inc. Education Complex, 6617 Padre Boulevard, South Padre Island
COST — Free

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City of South Padre Island receives certificate for excellence in financial reporting

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (KGBT) — The City of South Padre Island has received a certificate for excellence in financial reporting.

According to a release, the Government Finance Officers Association announced the City of South Padre Island received the GFOA’s Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

We’re told the award represents a significant accomplishment and reflects the commitment of the City Council and staff to meeting the highest principals of financial reporting.

“The City of South Padre Island Finance Department is committed to achieve the highest levels of transparency and financial reporting,” stated Rodrigo Gimenez, Chief Financial Officer, in a press release. “Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the City's Finance department over the years, the City has achieved numerous awards and recognitions.”

The Government Finance Officers Association is a nonprofit professional association serving nearly 20,500 government finance professionals throughout North America, according to a release.

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SPI opens Holiday Sandcastle Village

As the holiday season continues to take shape, this coastal city has started to kick off its annual festivities that showcase the area.

The city of South Padre Island opened its free second annual Holiday Sandcastle Village this week, which will be open through Jan. 13.

Located in a 30 by 60 foot white tent near Louie’s Backyard and Gravity Park, the exhibit has an array of large sand sculptures such as a snowman, Santa’s Christmas throne and an angel.

In addition to its 12 holiday-themed sculptures, the exhibit features a lighted musical show that runs every day from dusk to 9 p.m.

“I’m really happy that it’s finished,” said Lucinda “Sandy Feet” Wierenga, owner of Sandy Feet Sandcastle Services. “We had a lot of fun working on it, but now I’m excited to be able to share it with the world.”

Also featured in the Holiday Sandcastle Village is a sculpture of the late Sea Turtle, Inc. founder Ila Fox Loetscher holding an Atlantic green sea turtle that she rescued on Christmas Eve in the late 1980s.

Named “Merry Christmas,” she is the only mature female sea turtle resident at the facility.

Due to genetic defects, she is non-releasable and has been a permanent resident of Sea Turtle, Inc. since she was rescued.

“Ila is gone, but we love her still,” Wierenga said. “So we decided why not have her and Merry Christmas be in our exhibit and display that part of the Island’s history.”

The large sand sculpture was created by artist Abe Waterman.

“Really one of his amazing talents is that he’s able to capture somebody’s personality, not just their features,” Wierenga said. “So I thought it would be a really good project for him.”

Starting right after Sandcastle Days held in early October, Wierenga, along with eight other sculptors began creating the Holiday Sandcastle Village.

“It works out really well that our Sandcastle Days contest is so late in the season that we’re able to get the sculptors to stay a little bit longer,” Wierenga said. “Since many of the sculptors live in places like Holland or Canada, where it’s already getting cold in October, they really don’t mind extending their stay here and putting on this project.”

Wierenga, along with other artists, created the Island’s first Holiday Sandcastle Village in 2018 near the SPI Convention Centre.

“It was a great location, but I think a lot of people didn’t know about it or might not have gotten to see it because of how far north it was,” she explained. “So, this year we decided to put it in the middle of town.”

“I’ve worked on projects like this all over the world,” Wierenga said. “So it’s really exciting for me to be able to show people my community and what I do.”

Alana Hernandez

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Island to launch annual Shop the Island event

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — From yoga studios and boutiques to salons and restaurants, a nationwide movement aims to illuminate the challenges and opportunities small business owners face.

Founded by American Express, Small Business Saturday was created in 2009 to inspire people to take notice and shop small to support their communities.

And stemming from this movement, a local coastal city designed their own way to celebrate Small Business Saturday.

In conjunction with Small Business Saturday, the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce will launch its ninth annual Shop the Island event this weekend.

How to participate

Anyone that shops at any business on the Island between November 30 through December 18 and spends $20 or more is able to enter to win a $500 shopping spree on the Island.

Shoppers will be able to drop off their original receipts and collect entry forms at eight locations on the Island.

Several small businesses on the Island donated $20 to $25 gift certificates to be part of the grand prize shopping spree for consumers.

Starting at 11 a.m., the drawing will be held December 20 at the SPI Visitors Center located at 610 Padre Boulevard.

Participants do not need to be present at the drawing to win.

Local impact

Created in 2010, South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Roxanne Ray said Shop the Island was established to encourage people to shop on the Island.

“ The shopping environment on the Island is unique,” Ray said. “We have shops and products for sale that people aren’t going to find anywhere away from the beach so people are able to find unique gifts, items and clothing.”

According to Ray, months such as November and December can sometimes be slower tourism periods for the Island.

“ People come to visit and they can find a place to stay, but they also need some place to shop so we need to keep these businesses alive during slow months,” she explained. “Like any other community, we’re trying to support our retail businesses and other small businesses and that’s what we’re here for.”

Last year’s Shop the Island event received close to 1,000 entries and $73,534 in receipts.

According to Ray, the event has continued to gain momentum each year.

“ That’s very exciting for us and it’s a good number especially when you consider that not everyone takes the time to register all of their receipts,” Ray said. “Certainly, the dollar amount and the number of entries have grown over nine years.”

Nation-wide impact

According to Nicole Leinbach-Reyhle, a Small Business Saturday spokesperson and founder of Retail Minded, more than $100 billion has been spent at independent businesses since Small Business Saturday was introduced in 2009.

“ American Express was inspired by one very simple thing, which is to increase customer retention for independent businesses,” Leinbach-Reyhle said. “They wanted to make sure small businesses across the country were gaining more visibility from consumers during what is traditionally a very busy time of year to shop.”

According to Leinbach-Reyhle, on average 67 percent of every dollar that a consumer spends at a small business stays within their local economy.

“ More importantly, for customers who are aware of the value of that dollar spent within their local economy, 75 percent are more likely to shop small,” Leinbach-Reyhle. “So it’s really important for customers to recognize the value of how they spend their dollars and how that directly impacts their local community.”


WHAT — Shop the Island
WHEN — Saturday, Nov. 30 through Wednesday, Dec. 18
WHERE — South Padre Island
RECEIPT DROP LOCATIONS — Cactus Flower, Paragraphs, S.O.S. Services, Ship Shape, Sisters Interiors, SPI Birding, Nature and Alligator Sanctuary, SPI Chamber of Commerce and Yummies Bistro
DRAWING — Friday, December 20 starting at 11 a.m. at the SPI Visitors Center, 610 Padre Boulevard

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Two-day Cinesol film festival returns to SPI for 26th year

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas – “For me, every film should be a local film. No matter how big the budget, or how small the budget, you should have the locals involved.”

The 26th Annual Cinesol Film Festival returning to South Padre Island for two days of film screenings, featuring celebrity guest R.J. Mitte, famed for his role in the critically-acclaimed series, Breaking Bad.

Mitte’s grandparents are from Brownsville and he’s visited the South Texas city all throughout his childhood, making it all the more special to screen his new film, “Carol of the Bells” at the Cinesol festival.

“It’s such a warm and welcoming place here and it’s such an entity about Brownsville and all over this part of South Texas and it’s unique. There’s no other place like it in the world. I love coming down here I always love coming down here and it’s been a home to me,” said R.J. Mitte, Cinesol celebrity guest

His film, produced by Inclusion Films, is a company teaching filmmaking to the developmentally disabled, a cause close to Mitte. “They get to work on a full-feature film and kind of provide that hands-on experience working with leading professionals and learning students. And really trying to bridge that gap of knowledge.”

Cinesol Festival Director Henry Serrato has been involved in the festival since its second year and says that along with the advancement of technology, more people are turning to film making. This year 100 films were submitted, with 31 selected.

“People can shoot a film or a short on their phone. So we’ve seen technology make it accessible for filmmakers do more short films, so that means more films for us to watch and screen,” said Henry Serrato, Cinesol Festival Director.

Another film screened during Cinesol was “Ramona” a story shot in Brownsville about a woman reminiscing on her youth and struggles.

A producer of Ramona says he and others are working to build a strong film industry in the RGV.

“A lot of times in an area like this where incomes are lower they won’t see the opportunities to get into acting or get into working on crews. We want to create those opportunities locally for them and hopefully cultivate that even more,” said Roy De Los Santos-Cuellar, Founder of 6 Cats Production.

Cinesol continues into today with more film screenings and at 7 p.m., the winners of the 36-hour film race will be revealed.

by: Rocio Villalobos

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Star Power: Cinesol film festival features ‘Breaking Bad’ actor

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — The 26th annual Cinesol Film Festival happening at the South Padre Island Convention Center this Saturday and Sunday will feature an internationally known actor as celebrity guest.

R.J. Mitte, best known for his role as Walter “Flynn” White Jr. in the critically acclaimed AMC series “Breaking Bad” (2008-2013), will be on hand Saturday for a question-and-answer session related to the new film “Carol of the Bells,” which will be screened at the festival and in which Mitte plays Scott Johnson, a businessman and typical, stressed-out family man haunted by his past, hobbled by guilt and “somewhat broken,” Mitte explained in a phone interview with the Herald.

“It’s a Christmas film (but) not strictly a Christmas story,” he said. “No one’s really seen this story before. This isn’t like your typical Christmas feel-better movie.”

The film’s director is Joey Travolta, actor John Travolta’s older brother, who in 2007 founded Inclusion Films to teach filmmaking to children and adults with developmental disabilities. The company produced “Carol of the Bells,” three-quarters of the cast and crew of which are developmentally disabled, Mitte said. The actor has a mild form of cerebral palsy, which he had to exaggerate for “Breaking Bad.”

On day two of the festival, Mitte will lead a panel discussion on diversity and inclusion in the arts and media. He said there’s still much work to be done on that score, for disabled and non-disabled people alike, but that he’s glad he was given a chance to help influence attitudes about developmentally disabled people. Mitte called it “an honor and a great responsibility.”

“It’s a hard business,” he said. “The more you excel in it the harder it gets. I think Walt Jr. did have a hand in opening the door for perceptions and for how people are viewed, and what it means to see an accurate representation that you feel is relevant to the screen. It makes a difference. But we still have a long way to go. I’m very lucky for Walt Jr. and what Walt Jr. gave to me.”

Mitte has been busy since “Breaking Bad.” Besides to “Carol of the Bells,” recent projects include roles in “Now Apocalypse” on Starz cable network and “Standing Up for Sunny,” a film by Australian director Steven Vindler. This is Mitte’s first visit to Cinesol, a festival he said he’s been aware of for some time but has been prevented from attending due to a packed schedule.

All told, the festival will screen 31 independent films over two days, including three features, five documentaries and 23 shorts. International offerings will include films from France, Malaysia and Spain. Cinesol will also feature screenings from the Texas Filmmakers Showcase, and on Sunday, screenings and awards from the 14th annual Cinesol 36-Hour Film Race.

Steve Clark

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State awards $1.5M for county park projects

Cameron County has received over $1.5 million in grant money from the Texas General Land Office for several coastal county projects.

The money will come from the GLO’s Coastal Erosion Planning Response Act and Coastal Management Program, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said in a press release.

The grant will help fund projects at Adolph Thomae Jr. Park, North Cameron County Beach Nourishment Phase, Children’s Beach Shoreline Restoration Project, and Cameron County Beach Access No. 3.

“Special thanks to the Texas General Land Office for their partnership on these Coastal Projects,” Treviño said. “These projects will assist with improving public beach access at Cameron County Beach Access No. 3 and most importantly protecting our shorelines at Adolph Thomae Jr. County Park and County beaches on South Padre Island from eroding.”

Cameron County has received over $1.5 million in grant money from the Texas General Land Office for several coastal county projects.

The money will come from the GLO’s Coastal Erosion Planning Response Act and Coastal Management Program, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said in a press release.

The grant will help fund projects at Adolph Thomae Jr. Park, North Cameron County Beach Nourishment Phase, Children’s Beach Shoreline Restoration Project, and Cameron County Beach Access No. 3.

“Special thanks to the Texas General Land Office for their partnership on these Coastal Projects,” Treviño said. “These projects will assist with improving public beach access at Cameron County Beach Access No. 3 and most importantly protecting our shorelines at Adolph Thomae Jr. County Park and County beaches on South Padre Island from eroding.”

Laura Martinez

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Steel project at port would mean 500 full-time jobs

It looks like the Port of Brownsville may get that steel mill it’s been wanting.

David Stickler, CEO of Arkansas-based Big River Steel, was quoted in a June 5 article in metals trade publication Fastmarkets AMM saying that the company is spending time, money and effort toward construction of a mill in the southern United States, “with the most focus currently on the Port of Brownsville.”

BRS is in the process of doubling the capacity of its existing steel mill, in Osceola, Ark., and is evaluating sites for a second mill in order to grow its business serving Mexico’s vehicle manufacturing sector. In a Nov. 7, 2018, AMM article, Stickler confirmed that Brownsville was a contender but said BRS was also considering other Gulf coast sites for a high-tech, $1.6 billion mill.

In April 2018, the Brownsville Navigation District Commission approved a lease option agreement with BRS on up to 800 acres of port land, and the company signed an extension on that option agreement this April.

Stickler said in the most recent AMM article that the company had secured contracts with three major automakers — he didn’t say which ones — and is planning to add a fourth in the near future.

BMW opened a new plant in Mexico this month. Audi, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen also have plants there, as do General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, which have been building cars in Mexico since the 1930s. Manufacturer demand for flat-rolled steel continues to grow in Mexico.

Meanwhile, BRS is forging ahead with a second mill against a backdrop of dramatically fluctuating steel prices since its Osceola operations began in 2017, and despite whatever the Trump administration does related to tariffs. The new plant would support about 500 full-time jobs with an average annual salary of $75,000.

Steve Tyndal, Port of Brownsville senior director of marketing and business development, said Stickler took part in the port’s May 23 Workforce Summit, attended by roughly 60 stakeholders, including representatives from the three proposed liquefied natural gas projects at the port.

“This is another reassuring example of Big River Steel’s continuing interest in the Port of Brownsville,” Tyndal said.

Port officials are in regular communication with BRS about the project, which would provide “significant economic and job opportunities across the Rio Grande Valley, as well as further diversifying the port’s commercial foundation,” he said.

BND Chairman John Reed said Stickler was “very involved” in the summit, which also drew state officials with the Texas Workforce Commission.

“I will say that we are continually visiting with and speaking to Mr. Stickler and working very hard towards having Big River Steel open in Brownsville,” he said.

Kevin Shuba, CEO of OmniTRAX, which is in charge of marketing and developing the port’s industrial park and operating the Brownsville & Rio Grande International Railroad, said the potential economic impact of a BRS steel mill in Brownsville was obvious from the first conversation with the Arkansas-based company.

“Together with our local and state partners, we are collaboratively working to put the final pieces in place that hopefully enables a favorable decision by Big River Steel to bring a new, high technology steel mill to Brownsville, Texas,” he said.


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Reduce, reuse and recycle

 In addition to recycling common objects such as plastic bottles and cardboard boxes, Island visitors will have a chance to reduce the amount of uncommon items sent to landfills.

Coinciding with America Recycles Day, the South Padre Island Environmental Health Services Department (EHSD) is hosting the 10th annual Recycle Land Saturday, Nov. 16, from 8 a.m. to noon.

The event will be held at the Community Center at 4501 Padre Blvd.

Attendees will be able to drop off several recyclable items which include appliances, beads, buttons, batteries, corks, copper, clothing, dishes, flags, fabric, keys, household American light bulbs, ink cartridges, lace, monofilament fishing line, phone books, syringes, tennis shoes, watches and wooden frames.

In addition to music and recycling opportunities, the event will have exhibits and educational activities.

“We wanted to do something fun that would educate the community about the importance of recycling to take care of our delicate environment,” SPI Environmental Health Director Victor Baldovinos said. “For us, it’s really important to not only educate the public, but also, to offer assistance in recycling in ways that help people.”

Baldovinos said recycled Nike shoes will be taken to outlets where they will be resoled and sent to third world countries.

Additionally, Baldovinos said recycled bottles will be shipped to Monterey, Mexico, where they will be repurposed into objects such as benches that will be sold to pay for kids’ cancer treatments.

As an organizer of the event, Baldovinos said he is excited to offer it to the community and make a big impact in the world.

“If you go around the state, people know South Padre Island,” Baldovinos said. “It’s our prized jewel and we want to do everything that we can to protect it with the one goal of having the cleanest beach in the nation and for me that’s really important.”


WHAT — 10th annual Recycle Land

WHEN — Saturday, Nov. 16 from 8 a.m. to noon

WHERE — Community Center 4501 Padre Blvd., South Padre Island

For questions, contact the Environmental Health Services Department (EHSD) at (956) 761-8123.

Alana Hernandez

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