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Airport officially welcomes Frontier flights

The water cannon treatment always makes it official.

Valley International Airport hosted a ribbon-cutting for Frontier Airlines yesterday morning, greeting its Airbus A320 with twin geysers of water upon its arrival from Denver at 9:35 a.m.

“Congratulations to Marv Esterly and the staff who worked very hard to bring Frontier Airlines to our community,” Mayor Chris Boswell said of the airport’s director of aviation.

Frontier Airlines becomes the fifth passenger air carrier to fly in and out of VIA, joining Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Airlines and Sun Country Airlines. Valley International also is an air cargo hub for DHL, Fedex and Southwest Cargo.

McAllen International airport has four passenger air carriers — Aeromex, American, United and Allegiant Air. South Padre Island/Brownsville International Airport offers flights with carriers American and United.

“We sincerely value the partnership and we’re glad to have Frontier coming here,” said Dennis Stahl, South Padre Island’s mayor. “This flight is a celebration of the growing interest in Texas tourism.

“Valley International Airport and the City of South Padre Island have a longstanding partnership in destination development,” he added. “We’re ecstatic to be making another step toward spreading the word about Texas’ best beach.”

Frontier actually began its flights into and out of Valley International last Wednesday, but yesterday was the official ribbon-cutting.

Frontier will offer direct flights to and from Harlingen to Denver International Airport and Chicago O’Hare Airport. So far, bookings for the flights appear to be strong, airport officials say.

Kelsy Hustead, manager of corporate communications for Frontier, said there is the possibility Frontier will add additional flights to the current Denver and Chicago routes depending on customer demand.

“We’re always looking at new opportunities, so really the best way for us to reach that is by voting for us and buying tickets,” she said.

Esterly said last week the early indications are that the Chicago flight is the more popular route, although he said he expected demand for the Denver flights will grow since the Frontier hub there opens up the entire West Coast for travelers.

He said last week the airport already was seeing families from as far away as Roma, Rio Grande City and Corpus Christi arriving with reservations for the new Frontier flights.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


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Local leaders support Small Business Saturday

With the holiday season underway, shoppers do not have to focus entirely on Black Friday as local businesses in the Port Isabel and South Padre Island area are available during Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday, which is part of a nationwide movement known as “Shop Small,” occurs the Saturday after Thanksgiving and is a day to celebrate and support small businesses and all they do for their communities, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration website.

Local businesses in the area are gearing up to participate in the “Shop Small” movement taking place across the nation.

Valerie Bates, the marketing director for the City of Port Isabel, said she having locals and visitors take part in Small Business Saturday provides numerous advantages for the city.

“ It does support the local economy, but it also gives the shopper a unique shopping experience,” Bates said. “The small businesses that surround our lighthouse square take great care in what they stock their shelves with. There’s not much overlap at all from shop to shop, each has its own specialty. From the shopper’s perspective, they’re getting a very unique shopping experience. They can park, shop all day, dine and enjoy themselves while they walk away with some unique collectables or gifts.”

Betty Wells, president of the Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce, said Downtown Port Isabel already helps shine a spotlight on small businesses of the city all year.

“ Obviously, shopping local is something we promote all year, but especially during the holidays,” Wells said. “I don’t think many people that live here know what exceptional items are in the stores around town, especially around the square.”

She added local shops do a good job in marketing their businesses and the inventory they contain.

“ I would really recommend that before people go to McAllen or Harlingen or Brownsville to shop that they take a look closer to home first,” Wells said. “Take your time and go into these businesses. There’s a wealth of items that they can choose from, such as antiques, artworks or things that are reminiscing to the coastal area. There’s a lot for them to see and choose from.”

Bates said it is important for the community to have a healthy downtown area, as it can help bring a positive impact citywide.

“ Most of the businesses, restaurants, attractions and activities are mom-and-pop owned, so they employ the local workforce and that’s important,” she said. “Business retention is important and all these businesses collect, of course, sales taxes that go to support a lot of programs that the City of Port Isabel is trying to do to create and retain businesses and jobs. What downtown Port Isabel has to offer in terms of economic impact is very, very important to our big picture.”

Sales taxes collected go toward the economic development and growth of Port Isabel, Wells said. The money is used to keep the city clean and appealing for tourists.

“ The city puts an awful lot of time, money and effort into making our community attractive,” Wells said. “From the Christmas decorations this time of year to the work that they do constantly on the medians and keeping the streets clean, it all costs. When visitors shop here, that money does go back into our local economy.”

For Port Isabel, it is the only Texas town that has a lighthouse in its center square, so it serves as a beacon for tourism, Bates said.

“ But without the local business community around the base of it and the experience it can offer, from a fishing pier to restaurants or bars to shopping or a coffee shop, without all that, the experience would not be complete,” she said.

Wells said the city is expecting a good turnout during the holiday season and encourages local residents and visitors to shop during Small Business Saturday.

“ We have a lot of winter visitors who have already arrived and we want to see more of our locals out and about as well,” she said. “We wish happy holidays and encourage them to explore Port Isabel, even if they live here.”

By Jesus Sanchez Coastal Current Weekly


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$11 million awarded for Island, Bahia Grande land buys

ARLINGEN — Thousands of acres on South Padre Island and nearby Bahia Grande are now in sight to become federal areas designed to protect nesting sea turtles and bird rookeries.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, announced the two grant awards for conservation projects totaling $11 million. The funds were allocated from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, which was established in 2013 as compensation for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“Conservation of the Bahia Grande, Laguna Atascosa, and Laguna Madre has been one of my top priorities since I was elected to the House of Representatives, and today’s announcement marks an important step forward in the protection of these critical habitats,” Vela said in a statement. “Success in protecting these areas is the product of cooperative efforts by federal, state, and local officials working in partnership with non-profits organizations including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and The Nature Conservancy.”

The non-profit Nature Conservancy has taken the lead on the acquisition of land at these two sites, although purchase agreements still have to be hammered out. The property involves 3,200 acres on South Padre Island and several hundred acres along Bahia Grande near Port Isabel.

“The Nature Conservancy’s been working for a long while with the private landowners north of Bahia Grande between Bahia Grande and the high school, Port Isabel High School,” said Boyd Blihovde, refuge manager at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. “There is a piece of property we have been working to try to acquire with the Nature Conservancy as the main partner.”

The 3,200 acres on South Padre Island consists of two large tracts, Blihovde said, calling it “really good news.”

“It’s looking very hopeful that all the parties will be in agreement on the price and time-frame to get that purchased and that will quickly transfer to the Fish and Wildlife Service if the Nature Conservancy is successful,” he said.

The Nature Conservancy will receive $6.1 million to purchase land adjacent to the Bahia Grande Unit of Laguna Atascosa NWR. The land will then be transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for inclusion in the Laguna Atascosa refuge.

They will utilize an additional $5 million award to purchase and conserve the 3,200 acres on South Padre Island to protect the habitat of endangered wildlife, including critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


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Brownsville-SPI Airport Terminal to Begin Construction by End of 2018

A new airport terminal is in the works for the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport. Construction expected to begin by the end of the year.

It's a much-anticipated project in the City of Brownsville. From sketches to official designs, the airport is getting a new terminal. We met with Airport Director Bryant Walker who says construction is about to begin. 

"We actually completed the execution of the contract for construction on October 31st. Basically we should be into construction in a few weeks." 

The current terminal will be demolished and the new one expected in the parking lot right in front of the existing one. Despite the construction, the airport plans to operate without interruption. Flights will continue to and from Brownsville. 

Walker says, "A lot of the complexity is going to be in the traffic management. Moving the traffic off Billy Mitchel so we can build a terminal on what used to be Billy Mitchel. 

Right now the airport is too small for growth. Agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection or the Transportation Security Administration have new regulations and require more space. Walker says it's not just about compliance with these agencies. The airport can't expand it's operations much more. 

"Once we decide that the terminal is outdated and is beyond anything we can do to remodel to bring it up to standards, once we start building a new project like this, like a new terminal, then we're required to come into compliance with all the regulations." says Walker.

The total cost of the project is estimated at about $44 million. Funding comes from Brownsville organizations and the federal government.

Walker adds, "The airport is the front door to the city. The airport is an economic engine for the community and to the region. By building a new airport you're welcoming new business into the area, you're showing them that the city is here to do business."

The current passenger terminal was built in 1971. The new terminal is expecting completion in late 2020.

By: 

Alfredo Cuadros


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South Padre Island introduces FAM Fest

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Combining film, art, music, food and family-friendly fun, the Island is ready to present its inaugural FAM Fest this weekend.

This three-day event will feature outstanding artists, art demonstrations, children’s art activities, live music, film and local food and beverages.

FAM Fest will become the location for the Cine Sol Festival, featuring filmmaking workshops and industry panels. Festival attendees can expect to view films and documentaries from around the world with a unique perspective from award-winning filmmakers.

FAM Fest visitors will also be able to participate in an “Art Crawl,” featuring 16 local artists and art galleries around the Island and Port Isabel. Enjoy music from an eclectic array of local and Texas bands, including a free concert at Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark featuring the Josh Abbott Band.

“ An artist’s muse, the South Texas art community is vibrant and growing,” South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Keith Arnold said. “And it’s no wonder why — our landscape beckons artists to capture the beauty of our tropical waters and abundant wildlife. Standing ovations, high-energy festivals, artisan crafts and inspirational art galleries contribute to South Padre Island’s multi-sensory cultural aura. Take a class, nab a one-of-a-kind souvenir, and immerse yourself in the arts on Texas’ best beach.”


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Beach matting will benefit veterans, handicapped, elderly

Beach accesses are becoming the most accessible they’ve ever been.

The city has installed a pedestrian access mat at Beach Circle Access Four.

People are now able to easily get from the parking lot all the way to the hard-packed sand whether they’re in a wheelchair or utilizing a walking apparatus.

Additionally, city officials are currently in the midst of installing more than 2,600 feet of matting at 17 of the city’s 27 public beach accesses. The total cost of improvements is about $102,000.

According to South Padre Island Shoreline Director Brandon Hill, several of the accesses have either a walkover or a mat, but not all of the mats on the beach accesses reach all the way to the line of vegetation and none of them have ever reached past the line of vegetation.

“ The city has had mats like these on its public beach accesses for years,” Hill said. “The difference is this is the first time the city has made a conscious effort to not only have mats that go only part of the way to the beach.”

The idea for additional mat installations was brought up to the Shoreline Department by city council member Ken Medders Jr.

“ A luxury to some is being able to go to the oceans edge, but not everyone leaves here with that experience,” Medders said. “This matting is going to provide a good quality of life especially to our veterans, handicapped and elderly community.”

Hill said city officials are trying their best to ensure that no matter what situation people are in, they have the ability to visit the beach.

He said he’s noticed a lot of people don’t know about the free beach accessible wheelchairs beachgoers can pick up from the fire department. Each wheelchair has large balloon tires that allow people to roll onto the beach and float in the water.

South Padre Island Mayor Dennis Stahl said he felt honored and confident to say that the city of South Padre Island is now more accessible than it’s ever been. He believes the additional matting represents improvement not only to the beach accesses, but also to the lives of residents and visitors alike.

By ALANA HERNANDEZ Staff Writer


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Petition to Protect Pelicans Gaining Support

More than 97,000 people have signed a petition requesting the speed limit be lowered on a dangerous stretch of Highway 48 between Brownsville and Port Isabel.

For the past several years, hundreds of brown pelicans have been killed by motorists on this deadly span of highway near the Gayman Channel, where the speed limit is 75 miles per hour, and the public outcry for change is gathering momentum daily.

Unfortunately, the tragic scenario has occurred for nearly 10 years now along this busy roadway as pelicans fly into strong northerly winds while attempting to reach their roosting site in the Bahia Grande Unit of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Many pelicans crash into the concrete barriers separating four lanes of traffic and extending along the highway's shoulder.  The solid four–foot high wall atop the raised roadway creates a deadly turbulence forcing low flying birds downward.

While the Texas Department of Transportation after years of study has finally agreed to replace the concrete barriers with "concrete rails" a year from now, that they say will eliminate the problem of the deadly downdraft, they thus far refuse to lower the speed limit.
    
During each cold front with strong north winds, volunteers risk their lives to rescue pelicans from the roadway.  By reducing the speed limit motorists, volunteers and fishermen, who frequent the area year round, would be better protected.
    
Boyd Blihovde, Manager of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, states that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service have officially requested the Texas Department of Transportation consider reducing the speed limit to protect pelicans and pedestrians.
    
"It is only a matter of time unfortunately until some accident occurs. People are naturally going to want to avoid a pelican and swerve out of the way of a pelican.  And when they are going 75 mph or greater, and the road conditions are wet, that is just a recipe for an accident to happen."

Careful calculations have shown that by reducing the speed limit on the approximate two mile stretch between the Jamie Zapata boat ramp and just beyond Gayman channel from 75 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour would only result in a single minute loss of travel time, and could save lives.

If you would like to support pausing for pelicans and pedestrians go to:

https://www.change.org/p/greg-abbott-lower-speed-limit-to-save-hundreds-of-brown-pelicans-from-death-each-year-in-south-texas.


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Inaugural nonstop flight from Chicago lands in Brownsville

It’s not uncommon for people disembarking from flights at Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport to be greeted with hugs and flowers from loved ones. Those who arrived at 12:34 p.m. Saturday entered the lobby to the music of the award-winning Mariachi Aztlan and a fully stocked taco bar.

The VIP treatment was celebrating their arrival on the first-ever direct flight from Chicago O’Hare. The nonstop United Airlines route will run each Saturday through April 2019, departing Chicago at 9 a.m. and then departing Brownsville at 1:30 p.m.

Local municipal and airport leaders touted the direct flights as a new opportunity to bolster not only tourism but business, as well.

“ Today is a small step to what we’re about to be in the future,” Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez said, adding that he has seen the city grow rapidly during his tenure. “(Residents) understand what success looks like, what success can mean for jobs and opportunity.”

The ease and improvement of flights between the Brownsville-South Padre Island area and Chicago is a plus for people already looking to travel the route and will encourage more people to do so, Martinez said.

“ It starts with an idea for leisure, but the business traveler is also an important component and hopefully will sustain (the route),” he said.

South Padre Island Mayor Pro-Tem Paul Munarriz echoed Martinez’s excitement. He touted the island’s reputation as a major tourist draw and noted it has been rated Southern Living Magazine’s top island getaway.

Nonstop service to Chicago will help grow South Texas tourism, Munarriz said, and he hopes that marketing efforts along with word-of-mouth will both keep flights fully booked and allow for the addition of more.

“ We’re ecstatic about taking another step to spread the word about Texas’ best beach,” he said.

By Nadia Tamez-Robledo Staff writer


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2nd HalloWings festival hits Island this weekend

Pumpkins aren’t the only orange when it comes to Halloween.

South Padre Island is set for its 2nd Annual HalloWings Festival this weekend, dedicated to the monarch butterflies which are traveling south through Texas to winter in Mexico.

The festival begins Friday night and continues through Sunday, combining nature themes with Halloween and healthy doses of gulf seafood and outdoor activities.

“With the annual migration cycle of the monarch butterfly occurring the weekend before Halloween, our festival is a perfect blend for families, nature and supernatural lovers looking for a safe and affordable option to witness one of the most remarkable natural phenomena in the world along with festive Halloween activities,” said Keith Arnold, South Padre Island Convention and Visitors bureau director.

Festival activities will rotate between the South Padre Island Convention Centre, SPI Birding and Nature Center and Jim’s Pier.

LIST OF EVENTS

2nd Annual HalloWings Festival

Friday

Winged Gala — 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. Celebrating the migration of the iconic monarch butterfly, the event raises funds for habitat, conservation and educational programming. Sample fine wines and local beers paired with hors d’oeuvres. Live music consisting of folk, classical and Spanish guitar will be performed. Tickets are $65 per person and can be purchased at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.

Boo Bash — Free arts and crafts starting at 6:15 p.m. with movie showing at 7 p.m. at the South Padre Island Convention Centre. The evening features Halloween crafts followed by a family-friendly movie night featuring Disney’s “Hocus Pocus.” Children are encouraged to wear their favorite Halloween pajamas and bring their own blankets. The event is free and refreshments will be provided.

Saturday

HalloWings Across South Padre Island — Beginning at 9 a.m. at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. Spend the day learning all about the species and conservation efforts with activities including guided butterfly and bird walks, entertainment, vendors and nature film showings. Live butterfly tent from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

UnLITTER Trashion Show — Beginning at 11 a.m. featuring costumes made from discarded beach umbrellas, boogie board skins, tents, bags and plastic straws. The Trashion Show is a fun way to bring about awareness about litter and be mindful of its impact on the environment.

rkelley@valleystar.com


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Rescued sea turtle to be released

With almost every patient Sea Turtle Inc. staff help rehabilitate, there comes that bitter-sweet moment when they decide it’s time to bid farewell and release them back to their ocean-home.

Tomorrow afternoon, community members will be able to take a boat ride and witness one of the nonprofit’s latest patients return back to the sea.

However, this adventure will not only be a turtle release. Participants will be able to enjoy a cruise in the bay and look for dolphins while watching the sunset. Additionally, people will be able to see the star of the show, Redd and hear the turtle’s story.

In August, a nine-pound Atlantic green sea turtle was found stranded at the jetties near Isla Blanca Park covered with fishing line and had a hook piercing its right front flipper.

Most green sea turtles like Redd are often found at the jetties because they like to eat algae off the rocks in that area.

Rehabilitation intern Chris Gorman was the one who rescued Redd from the fishing line he was trapped in.

“It’s very exciting and kind of emotional to see the whole process from the day we picked up Redd and to seeing it go through the rehab process all the way to the point where now Redd’s able to be released,” he said.

Sea Turtle Inc. Licensed Veterinary Technician Nina Nahvi said a lot of the times, people cut the fishing line off of the turtles they hook. However, this isn’t the best choice to make.

“Quite often, turtles in these situations have hooks in their body or other issues so it’s much better to not cut the line and instead call our Sea Turtle Inc. hotline right away so we can get out there,” Nahvi said.

Based on the turtle’s weight, veterinary technicians determined it was less than 5 years old. Green sea turtles like Redd don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re about 20 to 25 years old.

For about a month and a half, rehabilitation staff had Redd undergo a regimen of cold laser therapy and applied medical grade Manuka honey on the turtle’s fishing hook wound to help it heal.

However, thanks to Redd’s healthy condition on arrival, the turtle didn’t have too long of a stay at Sea Turtle Inc.

Throughout the turtle’s stay it was very active, alert and had healthy blood levels with a great appetite.

Overall, Nahvi said there’s nothing quite like the feeling of releasing a sea turtle back to their homes.

“I’m basically just taking care of injured sea turtles, which is my dream job. But the absolute best part of my job is the releases because that’s everything that we work toward in the rehabilitation department,” Nahvi said. “Sometimes it can be a little bit bitter-sweet, but it makes all of our rehabilitation department know that it’s all worth it in the end when we get to see the turtles swim off for the last time.”

By ALANA HERNANDEZ Staff Writer


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