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Island Mayor Stahl not seeking re-election

Changes are on the horizon for the Island’s city council.

South Padre Island Mayor Dennis Stahl submitted his resignation Wednesday, Feb. 13 to city secretary Susan Hill.

However, he will complete his two-year term as mayor.

Six years ago, Stahl and his wife moved to the Island to retire following their business career.

Stahl became a member of the council in 2014 before being elected as mayor in 2017 in an unopposed race.

“ It has been a good run, but will shortly be over,” Stahl wrote in an email obtained through the city secretary’s office.

According to the email, the resignation is effective when citizens elect a new mayor and his successor is sworn in following the May 4 election.

City council member Ken Medders, Jr. is the Island’s current Mayor Pro-Tem.

Stahl plans to assist city leaders over the following three months on transition matters.

“ Thanks to our many citizens, acquaintances and friends for your input and support,” Stahl wrote. “ We’ve enjoyed getting to know you better. I would also like to thank the various city council members, federal, state, and county officials who I’ve had the pleasure to work alongside.”

Stahl said he and his wife look forward to a simpler, healthier re-retirement that was postponed for a few year


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Island puts the brakes on rental scooter companies

Not yet. You won’t be seeing electric rental scooters on the Island anytime soon.

Council members appear to be headed toward creating a temporary ordinance against motorized assisted scooters.

City Council member Joe Ricco said a scooter rental company based in San Antonio, named Blue Duck, is interested in bringing its rental scooters to the Island and met with city officials last week.

Blue Duck’s motorized standup scooters have a platform to stand on, upright handlebars, a toggle to speed up and a brake to reduce speed.

Before use, the rental scooter company requires users to download the Blue Duck app and sign a rental agreement/waiver of liability and release that outlines several requirements, such as being at least 18 years old, weighing 220 pounds or less and obeying local laws while operating the scooter.

Users are charged $1 to unlock the scooter and 15 cents per minute of usage.

“ There are currently about half a dozen of these companies in Texas and right now I see nothing but challenges with this group in our immediate future,” Ricco said. “This last weekend a man died in Austin in a scooter accident.”

City officials said they want more time to research potential impacts of rental scooters to prevent any problems for the Island.

“ What these companies like to do is drop off a whole bunch of scooters. I believe it was Bird who came with 500 scooters in San Antonio overnight and dropped them off,” Ricco said. “There were no regulations in place, and it’s created a lot of hardships for the city because they weren’t ready for this.”

Ricco said he does not want to see the city be in a similar situation, especially with Spring Break and Easter coming up.

The council is expected to continue discussion on the temporary ordinance against motorized assisted scooters in the next city Council meeting.

HOW IT WORKS

1. Locate a scooter using the Blue Duck app.

2. Register the scooter by scanning it with the app.

3. Travel to your destination.

4. Park the scooter at a dockless destination.

MORE INFORMATION

WHAT — Blue Duck electric rental scooters

COST — $1 to unlock the scooter and 15 cents per minute 

ahernandez@valleystar.com

By ALANA HERNANDEZ Staff Writer


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South Padre Island adds portable bathrooms to beaches

Ever had a long day at the beach and trouble finding a restroom?

The search for quick, accessible facilities just got easier for beachgoers and visitors along Gulf Boulevard.

The city of South Padre Island recently added 20 portable restrooms to nine city beach accesses as part of a pilot program while the city works toward long-term solutions.

All units are handicap accessible and will be cleaned daily.

The total cost of the temporary facilities is approximately $15,214 per month.

The portable restrooms will be in place for approximately one year.

Shoreline Management Director Brandon Hill explained that the idea of the pilot program stemmed from community feedback.

“The SPI community has been pointing out for some time that one of the things we’re missing at a lot of our beach accesses are restroom facilities,” Hill said, “We have 27 public beach accesses within the city limits and only two of them have permanent restroom facilities, so that’s something we know we’ve been lacking as a city.”

According to Hill, the pilot program will help determine the best solutions for future and permanent restroom amenities.

“We hope to learn where permanent restroom facilities would be best received so by putting these out here, we’re getting a lot of feedback.”

Currently, the portable restrooms look like regular facilities.

However, the city plans to enhance the portable restrooms’ Island aesthetic with a custom surfboard façade by the summer.

“We want to make sure when people come to the beach, they have everything they need and can spend as long as they want here,” Hill said. “This is just a small thing that we can do to help our beachgoers enjoy their time more.”

Alana Hernandez


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South Padre Island Walk for Women to host SPICE Chili Cook-off

Rain or shine, it’s going to be chili on the Island this weekend.

Walk for Women will host its annual South Padre Island Chili Cook-off at Louie’s Backyard on Saturday, Feb. 9 beginning at noon.

In addition to sampling unlimited pots of chili and batches of beans while overlooking the bay, attendees will be able to listen to music by local singer Leslie Blasing who will perform from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

All proceeds from the $5 admission fee will benefit the South Padre Island Walk for Women’s mission to help lower Valley women with financial, prosthetic and diagnostic support as they battle breast cancer.

According to event organizer Rees Langston, about 15 teams have registered to compete as of Monday and the event will have more than two dozen chili recipes.

The deadline to enter the competition is tomorrow at noon.

Cash prizes and awards will be given to first-, second- and third- place winners in the beans, chili freestyle, Texas red chili, white/green chili and the People’s Choice categories.

More than 600 people attended the event last year.

Event organizers hope to have “another great turnout for their annual funraiser.”

“ This fundraiser is so much fun to put together and e veryone that comes always has a great time ,” Langston said. “ The chili is always good and we always have a really big turnout from the winter Texans so we appreciate that.”

ahernandez@valleystar.com

INFOBOX: IF YOU GO

WHAT — Walk for Women SPICE Chili Cook-off

WHEN — Saturday, Feb. 9

TIME — Noon to 3 p.m.

WHERE — Louie’s Backyard, 2305 Laguna Boulevard, South Padre Island

COST — $5 admission fee

 

INFOBOX: MORE INFORMATION

To enter in the cook-off, visit www.spiwalkforwomen.org , email event organizer Rees Langston at reeslangspi@gmail.com or call (956) 495-9884.

The deadline to register is Wednesday, Feb. 6 at noon.

By ALANA HERNANDEZ Staff Writer


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South Padre Island to host annual SPI Kite Fest

From 3D dragons and a 90-foot-long gecko to a 150-foot-long octopus, an array of kites ranging from different patterns, shapes and sizes will be soaring over the Island this weekend.

B&S Kites, in conjunction with the City of South Padre Island and the Cameron County Park System, will host the annual three-day SPI Kite Fest beginning tonight with sold out indoor kite performances.

Although tickets for tonight’s indoor portion of the kite festival are sold out, the outdoor kite festival tomorrow and Saturday is free and open to the public.

Several kite fliers from around the country are scheduled to display massive “show kites” on the flats just north of the South Padre Convention Center throughout Friday and Saturday.

“ We have people flying their kites with music and demonstrating choreographed routines,” said B&S Kites co-owner and organizer Bill Doan. “It is precision flying at its best and the scene is just beautiful. It makes you feel like a kid again.”

Doan encourages attendees to bring sunscreen and chairs to the kite festival Friday and Saturday.

“ Make the Island your destination the first weekend in February and you’ll be delighted you did,” Doan said. “You’ll get amazing photos to share with your friends and may even start a new tradition.”

By ALANA HERNANDEZ Staff Writer


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Cruise Ship Update: County to Lead Project

An update, the city of South Padre Island is in the process of acquiring a cruise ship industry. However, the mayor says it's now up to the county for support and to make use of the property.

The city is looking to become a port of call for Cruise ships. Currently, the future of the SPI Cruise Ship Industry is in the hands of Cameron County officials. For several months, the mayor has been working to make this dream a reality.

Mayor Dennis Stahl, “We've identified that there is a high level of interest by the cruise lines and potential investors, now we're handing that off.”

The reason is the spot they identified for the port, while on the Island, belongs to Cameron County and not the city.

Eddie Treviño Jr., County Judge, “Basically, because Isla Blanca is county owned. The county at some point will have to take the lead on it and that's where we're at right now.”

The mayor says that it's possible for the city to host the port on city property, but they'd like to move forward with Isla Blanca Park. They chose the spot because of its location and because minimal dredging will be required to accommodate the large ships.

Judge Treviño, “The island, through its consultants, have basically having their conversations with the cruise Lines. In addition, we've had communication and meetings with the Island to move the ball forward.”

Mayor Stahl says he does not have an official date of when we can expect the cruises on South Padre Island, but JudgeTreviño says hopefully within 12 months, if not sooner.

The city hopes to offset low visitor counts during November and December. Part of their plan is to attract visitors with the cruise line industry.

Alfredo Cuadros


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Local business to host fundraiser benefiting Port Isabel animal groups

A bath in exchange for a good cause. Pet owners who pamper their pups tomorrow with a spa day at South Bark Grooming will benefit shelter animals in Port Isabel.

South Bark Grooming is hosting a Splash-a-thon animal fundraiser tomorrow at its Laguna Vista location.

Bath prices include $15 for small dogs, $25 for medium dogs, $35 for large dogs and $45 for extra large dogs. All baths will include a nail trim and ear cleaning.

According to South Bark Grooming owner Vicki Moreno, 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the Laguna Madre Humane Society and the Isabel Y. Garcia Animal Shelter in Port Isabel.

“ I know the shelters around here need all of the extra help they can get,” Moreno said. “So, I hope we have a really great turnout and can donate a lot of money to the shelters.”

According to Isabel Y. Garcia Animal Shelter Assistant Director and South Bark Grooming employee Lexus Martinez, the shelter takes care of about 700 animals every year and is a no-termination date facility.

“ We don’t give the animals a time limit for how long they can stay here,” Martinez explained. “A big reason we’re able to do that is because of the work we do with the Laguna Madre Humane Society.”

The Laguna Madre Humane Society helps transport dozens of the shelter’s animals to rescue organizations in Denver on a monthly basis.

One of the big projects the Isabel Y. Garcia Animal Shelter is looking to do this year is to create more fundraisers to remodel the facility.

“ The building was built in 1994 so with age, there is always work to be done so we’re going to get into a lot more fundraising to make this place more comfortable for the animals,” Martinez explained.

By ALANA HERNANDEZ\ Staff Writer


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Port Isabel officials approve master beautification plan for the city

Commissioners for the city of Port Isabel approved the first phase of a master beautification plan this week,

"We're just trying to improve the visual appeal of the city," said Jared Hockema, city manager for Port Isabel. “Being a tourism destination, it’s really important to have impact when people come to town."

To many visitors, Port Isabel is known for its lighthouse and as the town leading to South Padre Island.

But for those working on the mainland, like at The Quik Stop Bait and Gift Shop, visitors in Port Isabel means business.

The project begins with the city’s welcome sign and landscaped medians. Plans also include several road and drainage improvements to the city.

Hockema says Port Isabel had financial troubles in recent years and has been working to rebuild its finances.

The city now sees this year as a good time to begin widespread city improvements.

With the new landscaped medians, businesses like The Quik Stop Bait and Gift Shop, are skeptical on how traffic will run without opened medians like now.

"If they are planning to do something like that, we're hoping it actually helps more of the business to do that," said Oscar Garza, a clerk at The Quik Stop.

Although the beautification project in Port Isabel is in its very early stages, city leaders say, its completion all depends on traffic and how busy it gets during peak seasons.


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Bush: Beach erosion management plan can help SPI expand northward

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush says he will do what he can to make sure sand dredged from the Mansfield Cut can be used to help re-nourish South Padre Island’s beach.

In a project costing more than ten million dollars, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is slated to dredge Port Mansfield’s ship channel to a depth of 17 or 18 feet later this year. Some of the sand and silt may be used to help boost the National Seashore north of Port Mansfield, while some may be shipped to SPI.

“We are all about prioritizing where dredged material can be best utilized and beach re-nourishment is time and time again the number one issue we hear about from communities up and down the coast,” Bush told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.

Bush pointed out that prior to Hurricane Harvey, his office was seeking $30 million from the State of Texas for a project that would have “re-nourished” much of the Texas coast. Once Harvey hit the Texas coast in August, 2017, state leaders were not inclined to free up money in the state’s treasury for non-hurricane relief matters.

On a recent fruit run to Austin, RGV public policy advocate Ron Whitlock delivered grapefruit to Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

“Before Harvey, we asked for $30 million that would have essentially re-nourished the entirety of the Texas coast. We made the argument, not just in terms of tourism and the additional tax revenue generation, but also storm mitigation, storm surge,” Bus said.

“For every dollar you spend in that respect you get four dollars back in mitigating future damage. That is something we will continue to advocate for. It is a problem we have in Washington and Austin right now. We wait for the storm to occur and then we pass the hat around. It did not quite work but we will work at it again this session.”

Asked if he will ask for $30 million during the current legislative session, Bush said: “We have not decided how we will make our pitch. The Texas coast is the priority for this agency. Stay tuned, I will be testifying Jan. 30 in front of the Senate Finance Committee.”

Bush added that there are a variety of issues the GLO has to work on in Cameron County, not least an erosion management plan to help the city (SPI) expand northward.

“We know this is an existential issue for the city. We had our coastal team work with the county to secure funding. Allowing for that development, you can, in essence, stem the tide in terms of erosion, which is the number one issue up and down the coast,” Bush said. 

Rio Grande Valley public policy advocate Ron Whitlock met with Bush at his office in Austin on the first day of the new legislative session. “The sand that will be dredged from the Mansfield Cut would be perfect for South Padre Island,” Whitlock. “I was pleased to engage with Commissioner Bush on this issue during my recent visit.”

Whitlock said this would not be the first time the General Land Office has helped South Padre Island.

“Louie’s Backyard has been an institution on South Padre Island for decades. Commissioner Bush granted the restaurant 100 more seating spaces to expand its deck. For some reason the application had sat there in the GLO’s archives floundering. Commissioner Bush came along and signed it. So, he is already a hero on SPI.”

Bush responded: “It was the right thing to do, it was good public policy.”

During his visit, Whitlock pointed how Port Mansfield had secured around $17 million to have the Mansfield Cut dredged. He said dredging to a depth of 18 feet would be the deepest the ship channel has been since it opened in 1962.

“Great things will happen in Willacy and Cameron counties once the dredging work is done. It will allow commercial barges to get to the Port Mansfield harbor and the Port of Harlingen will have an outlet to the Gulf of Mexico. These are exciting times for the Lower Rio Grande Valley,” Whitlock said.

Whitlock noted that Willacy County is the poorest county in state of Texas and thanked Commissioner Bush for providing $6.3 million to help the county with flooding and housing. 

“We went to the federal government and asked for relief,” Bush responded.

Navigation District perspective

Ron Mills is executive director of Willacy County Navigation District. In an earlier interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Mills said dredging the Mansfield Cut would be a “game changer” for Willacy County. 

“For too many years, Port Mansfield has been in a situation where it simply wanted to keep the water flowing, to keep the harbor from turning into a giant cess pool,” Mills said. “But now we are looking ahead, looking for other federal funds to rebuild our seawater infrastructure.”

Mills acknowledged that getting notification from the Corps of Engineers last July that the Port Mansfield ship channel would be dredged “took everybody by surprise.” He said Whitlock and his company, The Shepherd Group, deserved a lot of credit for visiting the offices of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela in Washington, D.C. “Miraculously, on the fifth day of July, we learned that upwards of $20 million would be spent on the dredging project.”

Ron Mills

Mills said that knowing the ship channel will be dredged allows him to go after trade agreements with Mexican officials. He said the Port of Victoria, a shallow-draft port in Victoria, Texas, was an inspiration in this regard.

“The Port of Victoria was in just as bad a shape as Port Mansfield. But, thanks to the Eagle Ford Shale, they now have 16 barges a day coming in with oil. Each barge is equivalent to 33 trucks of oil. The Port of Victoria has become the second busiest shallow port in the country. Well, Mexico has a shale play bigger, than the Eagle Ford Shale, the Burgos Basin, and we are the nearest port.”

Mills said there was another project where The Shepherd Group was of “great assistance.” It involved legislation to allow Port Mansfield homeowners to lease their land for 99 years, rather than the traditional 50 years.

“At Port Mansfield, people own their home but lease the land. In a way it is similar to McDonald’s, which owns its restaurants but leases the land. It could be that Port Mansfield is the only community in Texas where the government is effectively the landowner,” Mills explained.

“A few years ago we tried to get the Legislature to allow 99 year leases but we got no traction. So, our board of directors commissioned The Shepherd Group and they worked on legislation with Representative Guillen and Senator Lucio. Now, a 50 year lease can be extended to 99 years, which gives peace of mind to residents who want to pass on their home to their children.”

Mills noted that of nine bills related to sea ports, Governor Abbott vetoed eight. “He did not sign the bill but he allowed it to become law. It was good public policy because they government should not get in the way.”

Speaking about Willacy County Navigation District’s work with The Shepherd Group, Mills said: “I have to say The Shepherd Group has been invaluable to us. They are advocates, they interact with a lot of politicians, even in Mexico. They were the driving force that made sure people were listening to us regarding the lease issue. They have the ear of the people that matter. It is all about relationships, which they have had for decades, their advocacy has been tremendous for us.”

Mills added: “When I got here, it was Willacy County, huh, where is that. Now, they are paying attention to us.”


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Islands’ winter outdoor expo to be biggest yet

From native plants and how to grow them, to live raptor shows, to fishing the Laguna Madre, the 24th Annual Winter Outdoor Wildlife Expo is going to be the Island’s biggest yet.

This year’s event runs from 9:30 a.m to 3:45 p.m. for five days beginning Jan. 22 with more than 60 presentations planned.

“ This is probably the biggest one that we’ve done,” said Javi Gonzalez, naturalist educator at the Island birding and nature center. “This year Jonathan Wood (live raptor shows) is going to be here for an additional day. He usually only comes for two days but we have him for three days. We’ve got new speakers presenting new topics, and we’re offering two field trips that have sold out already.”

The expo, pronounced WOW-ee, kicks off on a Tuesday with the entire day devoted to native plants and how to grow them. Harlingen master gardeners Mike Heep will have a segment on native plants, and Christina Mild will discuss edible native plants.

Other presentations include composting, landscaping with native plants, attracting butterflies and nurturing palm trees.

The next day is devoted to fishing tactics and techniques in the Laguna Madre. Fishing guides participating include Capts. Gencho Buitureira, Wade Davis and Mark Kreider, with Mark Machado talking on fly fishing in the bay and a fly tying presentation by Jack Keller.

At noon, Bettina Tolin, lead chef at Marcello’s Italian Restaurant and Bar in Port Isabel, will give a cooking demonstration.

“ She’s going to be cooking some seafood and shrimp … and people can pay $5 extra to taste the food,” Gonzalez said.

On Thursday, Jonathan Wood spends the entire day with his Raptor Project show, with additional presentations by Kat Lillie of Sea Turtle Inc. and others on gulf and bay activities.

On Friday, birds of the Rio Grande Valley take center stage with presentations by Mary Jo Bogatto of Cactus Creek Ranch, Tony Henchan on urban green jays, reddish egrets and pelicans by Lianne Koczur and plovers with Stephanie Bilodeau.

“ I’m a bird guy so I’m excited about this teacher who is going to be talking about hummingbirds,” Gonzalez said. “His name is Kelly Bryan. He’s a hummingbird bander, so he studies hummingbirds and he bands them. He lives up in the Fort Davis Mountains of West Texas and is going to be presenting about the hummingbirds of Texas.

“ He’s one of the leading experts on that topic, and that’ll be a special treat,” Gonzalez said.

Along with Bryan on the Saturday menu are a skins and skulls exhibit with Elisa Velador, bird banding with Mark Conway and mammal strandings with Shelby Bessette.

“ We’re offering three daily bird walks each day,” Gonzales said. “One is in the morning before the program starts from 8:15 to 9:15. That’s a quick hour to warm things up before the programs start. And then there are going to be another two in the afternoon, one at 1 p.m. and another at 3 p.m. when things are pretty much over for the day.

“ They’re going to be led by our volunteer Winter Texan guides each day,” Gonzalez said.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


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