McNulty delivers State of the Island Address

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Year-round this seaside community attracts many tourists and is home to several permanent and seasonal residents.

And as the city enters its next fiscal year, its city officials traditionally reflect on its past achievements and discuss what’s in store.

On Tuesday, the SPI Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual “State of the Island Address” during its quarterly Public Affairs Luncheon.

Close to 110 city, county, state, PI-ISD school district officials and Chamber of Commerce members, attended the luncheon.

“This event is great because it brings together a diverse group of leaders and business community,” South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce President Roxanne Ray said. “It’s a great networking event and we’re always happy to host it.”

South Padre Island Mayor Patrick McNulty kicked off the luncheon by reflecting on the city’s accomplishments in the 2018-2019 fiscal year and gave updates on various items such as the Venue Tax Projects.

“There are many projects that will focus on the comprehensive plan, which will create a shared vision that will help guide future actions of the city for years to come,” McNulty stated in a pamphlet of the 2018-2019 annual report. “We continue to address the needs for Laguna Boulevard to be reconstructed and are currently surveying the boulevard and the design phase this spring.”

In the works is the PR 100, Median Boardwalk and Sidewalk Improvement Project, which was approved by voters on Nov. 8, 2016 to help improve vehicle and pedestrian mobility along Padre Boulevard.

The project began in January 2020 and will range from design to full replacement with a new structural system including pavement, improved drainage, sidewalks and accessibility ramps.

It is funded through the Venue Tax Funds and is estimated to cost $7.5 million.

“Currently, we have several venue tax and city infrastructure projects underway such as Padre Boulevard medians, boardwalk and sidewalk improvement projects,” McNulty said during the luncheon. “I’d like for you to know that the city staff is working with contractors to halt construction during peak times and major holidays.”

Another project in the works that’s also being funded through the Venue Tax is a Quite Water Sports Park.

Last year, city officials signed a property lease to develop an area that would be designated for the wind and water sports park, which will include restroom facilities, parking spaces and launch sites for paddle boarders, kayaks and wind surfers.

The project will be discussed during a city council meeting Wednesday starting at 5:30 p.m.

Additionally, city officials are in the process of completing phase II of the Tompkins Park project, are working with Cameron County officials to look into the possibility of bringing cruise ships to the Island and are hoping to join the Metropolitan Planning Organizations to develop a second causeway.

“I’d like to thank city council and staff for their hard work and dedication,” McNulty said during the luncheon. “The last six months have been a challenging yet rewarding experience. I look forward to continuing working with my friends on council to move our Island toward completing infrastructure projects.”



GENERAL FUND — 6.76 percent increase in sales tax revenue

CONVENTION CENTRE FUND — 3.07 percent increase in hotel occupancy tax revenue

EXCESS RESERVES — $2 million in the general fund

TAX RATE — 32 cents


Visit to view the Financial Performance Portal.

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RGV Reef begins major construction

Friends of RGV Reef has launched a major new phase of its artificial reefing project off South Padre Island, even as fishing boats reel in large numbers of red snapper the reef is already producing.

Gary Glick, president of Friends of RGV Reef, said 20 million pounds of concrete railroad ties and other materials are being sunk over the next few weeks at the 1,650-acre reef site eight nautical miles off the coast and 14 nautical miles north of the Brazos Santiago Pass jetties.

“We’ll move more material in this one deployment than exists in any of the other Texas reefs,” he said. “We’re going to lay down the bones of a new 400-acre nursery reef.”

Glick said the activity is taking place inside a section of RGV Reef that until now has had only a thin layer of material.

“If you just put small material down, which is what the baby red snapper need, then after a while that material may sink or get covered, so what we’re going to try to do is make a nursery reef that’s going to last for decades,” he said.

Glick said the new reefing will consist of 25 tons of railroad ties, 25 tons of broken concrete on top of that and a sprinkling of 432 cinder blocks.

“We’re going to make 54 of those, and then protecting it we’re going to put down 16 high-relief piles of concrete, 250 tons each,” he said.

No one else in the Gulf is building reefs that combine low, medium, high and very high relief elements that sustain fish through all stages of the life cycle, Glick said. The point is to substantially increase the numbers of red snapper and other fish in the waters off SPI. Part of that means creating habitat on an otherwise featureless seafloor offering young fish few places to escape predators. The initial deployment of reef material attracted tens of thousands of juvenile snapper almost immediately, Glick said.

More fish to catch means more people coming to catch fish, which is good for the economy. It’s no coincidence that among the reef project’s benefactors is the SPI Economic Development Corporation.

“We’re putting fish back in the Gulf by raising them from babies,” Glick said. “What you get if you raise fish from babies is you ges lots of fish. Every weekend there are 12 or 15 bay boats out there with several offshore boats.”

The current materials deployment phase began Jan. 2 and will continue into February, Glick said. It begins a year after Friends lost access to the vessel it had hired for materials deployment, a Vietnam-era landing craft named Lil Mo, which caused reef building to grind to a halt. Now the project has hired a new vessel: the Dry Tortugas, an offshore supply ship based in Houma, La.

It wouldn’t be possible to rent such a vessel without financial assistance from the project’s partners, Glick said.

“We paid $137,000 just to get the boat to show up,” he said. “When she carries a full load, which is 325 tons, it’s $12,000 every times she goes out. We’re paying her by the ton.”

Glick said he hopes to have enough money for another deployment in the fall. Donors, meanwhile, can rest assured that each dollar the project receives is stretched to the max, he said. Thanks to donations of labor, equipment, storage space and reef material, the project is being accomplished for a fraction of the cost of a typical artificial reefing contract, Glick noted.

The Port of Brownsville is helping out by providing two acres with deepwater frontage and a railroad siding for storing and handling the donated railroad ties, box culverts, cinder blocks and other material. Though the reef project is “rocking along,” Glick said, he fears major construction projects on the horizon will squeeze out Friends of RGV Reef and put a stop to construction.

“It actually worries me a little bit,” he said. “How long are they going to be able to give us that space? We really have this sense of urgency to do it now. This is why we’re so urgently trying to raise money now, because we do have this fabulous opportunity that cannot last.”

Steve Clark

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SPI to create ad hoc Healthcare Committee

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — This city is taking the next step toward possibly bringing a hospital to the Laguna Madre area.

The City of South Padre Island approved the formation of an ad hoc Healthcare Committee Jan. 8 during a city council meeting.

The purpose of the ad hoc Healthcare Committee is to put together a group of people from the healthcare industry who can come up with a roadmap for the Island’s needs.

“I think a committee that’s focused on this issue is the best way to proceed at this time for the community,” City of South Padre Island Mayor Patrick McNulty said during the meeting.

According to EDC Director Darla Lapeyre, the board completed a feasibility study last fiscal year and is in the middle of a community health needs assessment.

“It’s (the ad hoc Healthcare Committee) to look at the different options of what the product would look like and then also how to bring it to fruition — how to put some creative funding out there,” Lapeyre said. Lapeyre made a suggestion to council members that she and EDC board member Beverly Skloss are interested in being on the ad hoc Healthcare Committee.

During the meeting, Dr. Richard Joe Ybarra, an Island resident since 1994, also volunteered to be a member of the new committee.

The council plans to set up the ad hoc Healthcare Committee through an application process.

“I’m very excited that we’re going to do this,” Ybarra said. “I want everyone on the Island to not have to go to Brownsville or Harlingen to get primary care, and I also want to bring specialists in on certain days of the week.”

Alana Hernandez

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SPI announces traffic plans for Causeway Run/Walk

It’s not something people get to do everyday.

Saturday morning thousands of people will be running and walking across the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway in the Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce’s 36th annual Causeway Run and Fitness Walk.

According to a press release from the City of South Padre Island, motorists should expect traffic delays before and after the event.

The run and fitness walk will begin at 8 a.m.

Participants will travel eastbound from the Port Isabel Community Center located at 213 N Yturria St. and will continue across the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge.

The run and walk will end at 2305 Laguna Blvd.

The South Padre Island Police Department, along with other city department, will be working together to manage crowds and traffic control.

“Public safety is our number one priority,” said Claudine O’Carroll, South Padre Island Police Chief. “We want to ensure the participants and visitors enjoy this event.”

The City will place traffic cones on the roadway to direct traffic movement and to minimize delays. All westbound traffic will be directed to the inside, left lane using cones and traffic personnel.

City officials estimate the temporary lane closures will occur from 7 to 11 a.m.

Alana Hernandez

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Fitness with a view; PI Chamber to host 36th annual Causeway Run

PORT ISABEL — Soon thousands of people will be able to witness the marvels of this coastal area as they run and walk across the Queen Isabella Causeway.

The Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce will host its 36th annual Causeway Run and Fitness Walk January 11 starting at 8 a.m. at the Port Isabel Community Center.

“This is a really exciting and unique opportunity to be able to cross this bridge on foot,” said Chamber of Commerce Director Betty Wells. “Everyone seems to really enjoy the event and we like seeing them happy.”

Participants may check in at the Chamber of Commerce office Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the week of the event to pick up their T-shirts and walker wristbands.

T-shirts are guaranteed to the first 2,000 participants that check in.

More than a race

Wells said her favorite aspect of the annual event is its participants.

“They’re just a wonderful group of people that almost feels like family,” she explained. “We appreciate them coming back year after year and we like sharing what the area has to offer with them.”

Partial funds raised from the event will be awarded to students in the form of scholarships.

At least three students from Port Isabel High School will receive a $1,000 scholarship this school year.

According to Wells, the scholarship program was implemented three years ago.

The bulk of other funds raised go back into the event.

Race course

No pets are allowed to participate in the run or walk.

While on the Causeway, running participants will come across one major incline.

Police and EMS protection will be provided.

Water stations will be located along the race course and at the finish line.

The 5K course will end at the Padre Balli Statue on the Island.

Immediately following the race and scoring, awards will be presented at a ceremony that will be held at Louie’s Backyard.

Shuttle service will be available starting at 6:30 a.m. from Louie’s Backyard to the start line.

Additionally, shuttles will transport participants from Louie’s Backyard back to Port Isabel at the end of the race for vehicle pick up.


Medals will be given to the top three overall male and female winners.

Overall winners will be ineligible for awards in their age divisions.

Medals will be given to first through third place winners in each male and female division of the 10K.

All participants crossing the finish line will receive a finisher’s medal.


WHAT — 36th Annual Causeway Run and Fitness Walk

WHEN — January 11 starting at 8 a.m.

STARTS — Port Isabel Community Center, 213 Yturria St.

ENDS — Louie’s Backyard, 2305 Laguna Blvd., South Padre Island

10K Run — $40

Walking 5K — $35

10K Run (Student and military with ID) — $25

Walking 5K (Student and military with ID) — $25


ON-SITE LATE REGISTRATION — Port Isabel Community Center Friday, Jan. 10 from 4 to 7 p.m. or Jan. 11 from 6 to 7 a.m.

For run or walk accommodations, email director@portisabel.orgor call the Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce at (956) 943-2262.

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Hundreds celebrate 2020 at SPI Polar Bear Dip

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Cloudy skies and light rain showers continuously loomed over the Valley this New Year’s Day, but that didn’t put a damper on this annual celebration.

From visiting Winter Texans to local Valley families, hundreds participated in Clayton’s Beach Bar and Grill’s free 22nd annual Polar Bear Dip held yesterday afternoon.

The idea of the annual Polar Bear Dip tradition is for participants to immerse themselves completely from head-to-toe in the water so they can wash off the old year and come out refreshed and ready for the new year.

“This is a great family-friendly event that brings in the New Year,” Clayton’s Beach Bar and Grill owner Clayton Brashear said. “It started about 20 plus years ago by a couple of guys just going to the beach and it has grown into a destination event where people from as far away as Minnesota, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and the Valley come out and supports it.”

New traditions

Harlingen residents Obie and Maribel Salinas sported matching reindeer onesies as they ran into the chilly ocean waters together.

It was the couple’s first time participating in the Polar Bear Dip.

“I think it’s a wonderful way to end the year and start a new one,” Obie said. “This is something we’ve been really looking forward to and wanting to experience.”

Maribel said the duo are already planning costume ideas for next year’s event.

“I think more people should come out and participate,” Obie said. “It’s getting bigger and bigger every year so everyone should come out and have fun while supporting the community.”

Helping a local cause

For the past four years, the Island’s Friends of Animal Rescue Shelter has been registering participants and selling commemorative Polar Bear Dip T-shirts to raise funds for their new shelter.

“The outlook on the new year is always great,” said Friends of Animal Rescue Shelter Director of Operations Sherry Pindard. “Our goals for 2020 are to break ground on our new animal shelter that we’re building in an empty lot next to our current animal shelter and to build something that will help the community and all of the animals.”

According to Pindard, the nonprofit raises anywhere from $7,000 to $9,000 during the Polar Bear Dip event, depending on the crowd.

“It’s fantastic. Clayton has always been very generous to Friends of Animal Rescue,” Pindard said with a grateful smile. “That’s a lot of money for a nonprofit shelter to make in a matter of three to four hours.”


CONDITIONS — Cloudy skies and light rain showers



By Alana Hernandez, Staff writer

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Award-winning wildlife filmmaker says his time in the Valley was ‘life-changing’

A last-minute change on a project turned into the start of an award-winning film career for Sandesh Kadur.

His work has been featured in film festivals around the world. He was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2013, and is now a BAFTA winner and Emmy-nominated cinematographer.

Before all that, though, he was a student at UTRGV legacy institution UT Brownsville/Texas Southmost College.

In 1996, Kadur had plans to intern on a film about the Western Ghats in India. However, the cinematographer who would lead the project was unable at the last minute to work on it.

“That's when (biology professor) Lawrence Lof, my mentor, called me and said, ‘Well, do you still want to make the film?’ And I was 20 years old,” Kadur said. “I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ He said, ‘OK, figure out what you need and go get it.’”

Lof charged a professional camera and lens to his credit card. The items arrived the day Kadur was leaving to start the film.

“With his support, I went back to India with a tripod and camera in hand. It was supposed to be a three-month college project, a summer project. It turned into three years of spending the time to learn the technology and learn the craft of wildlife filmmaking,” Kadur said.


When he returned to the university, members of the media services department taught him how to edit the film, and Dr. Juliet Garcia, then-president of UTB/TSC,narrated the film in one read-through.

“We had a great voice, a beautiful story, and it all blended nicely together,” Kadur said. “And that was my first documentary, called ‘Sahyadris: Mountains of the Monsoon.’”

The film went on to win accolades at several film festivals.

“It made such an impact on public impression of this important area that it began the movement to save this biodiverse area,” Lof said.


Kadur, who graduated from UTB-TSC in 2001 with a degree in biology, called his time in the Rio Grande Valley life changing.

“I was fortunate to come down to the Rio Grande Valley because this is one of the hot spots of biodiversity for the United States. It's a perfect place for any naturalist to get started,” Kadur said.

When he was a student, the Gorgas Science Society, a campus organization, immediately caught his attention. That led to mentors in the biology department, Lof and Guillermo Aguilar, as well as time at the Rancho del Cielo biology station in Mexico. At the time, the station offered classes in biology, English and art, along with research programs.

“I think it’s one of the most unique programs that any university could ever dream of having,” he said.


Since that first documentary, Kadur’s work has been featured on National Geographic, the BBC and Animal Planet.

Lof, now retired from teaching, said Kadur is at the top of his profession, working globally.

“He’s making his impact,” Lof said. “He works in Africa. He works in India. He’s working in South America.”

On occasion, the UTRGV legacy graduate returns to the Valley to make a presentation. Lof said they usually have just a few days of advance notice, but each time, Kadur draws a large turnout.

“We had close to 200 people at the educational building at Sabal Palm Sanctuary the last time he was here,” Lof said. “And then, the next night, they had almost a full house in Port Isabel. People know his work.”

While Kadur’s start in filmmaking was unexpected, he said, “I don't think people need to look at a career as a defined pathway.

“I believe there are opportunities out there for you to go and explore,” he said. “And if you are willing to persevere and have the patience, you can achieve what you're passionate about.”


By Maria Elena Hernandez, UTRGV Staff

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Washed Up Texas promotes beach health through beach-litter sculptures

Most of us love the ocean, live near it or wish we did. For artist Connie Lovell, who lives in Harlingen, the ocean is her “heart and soul.” 

Lovell was so bothered by trash on the beach left by beach goers, trash that washed ashore, and trash in our oceans that,  in the early 80’s, Connie became involved in the Ocean Incineration of Toxic Waste, where she met Sarah Kulungowski. Both Lovell and Kulungowski were advocates for cleaning up oceans and beaches – a mutual passion that would 35 years later lead to forming Washed Up Texas. 

Lovell has created beautiful, mesmerizing sculptures from trash on the beach that washes ashore, with some sculptures as small as masks and as large as seven feet tall, 4 feet wide and weighing as much as 450 pounds. If you look closely at her sculptures, you will see the creativity that evolved from trash – plastic bottles, bottle caps, shoes, flip flops, brushes, sand toys, lighters, metal cars, trucks; the list goes on. The only paint used on the sculptures is on the stainless steel screw heads, to match the color of trash items.  Lovell creates these sculptures because, she says, art speaks to people and the message when viewing the art is clearly understood.

Kulungowski’s role in Washed Up Texas involves working with various volunteer groups that pick up and wash the trash, as well as, promoting Washed Up Texas at local events. Volunteer groups include the Texas Master Naturalist group from Rio Hondo. Their members volunteer to pick up trash and are able to earn credit for their volunteer hours, which helps them maintain their status in the group. Kulungowski is currently working with retired teachers that are part of this group in an effort to start doing school presentations for students. 

Josie the Loggerhead displayed at Sea Turtle and donated by artist Connie Lovell. Josie was created from over 154 pieces of trash. Photo by Angie Gamez.

“Perhaps that one student that sees the sculpture will one day become the scientist that comes up with alternatives to plastic and how to break down the plastic that currently exists,” Kulungowski said.

Washed Up Texas has also partnered with the Cameron County Juvenile Justice system in San Benito. About 8 to 9 cadet volunteers that are on home detention helped pick up trash, drill bottle caps and make water splash with clear bottles during Beach Cleanup Day. All trash is cleaned using vinegar and water to kill bacteria.

Two sculptures, Humberto, the Great Blue Heron, and Miguel, the Mahi-Mahi, have been leased for five years to the Valley International Airport (VIA) in Harlingen. Both of these sculptures had been previously displayed at Sandcastle Days, Hallowings (Birding Center) and the opening of the Dolphin Cove Amphitheatre in Isla Blanca Park on South Padre Island. Humberto, the Great Blue Heron, is about 7 feet 6 inches tall by 4 feet wide and weighs approximately 300 pounds. Miguel, the Mahi-mahi, is about 7 feet 8 inches tall by 4 feet wide and weighs approximately 450 pounds. As of April 2019, approximately 2,274 pounds of trash have been picked up from the beach at South Padre Island.

Josie the Loggerhead is on display at Sea Turtle, Inc., a donation by Lovell. About 154 pieces of trash were used to create Josie the Loggerhead.  Dolly, the Bottlenose Dolphin, had been on display at the Native Plant Center but is now home with Lovell where water and splash is being built underneath her. Other sculptures will be built for future events. 

For more information, go to 

By Angie Gamez

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Christmas tree recycling locations in the RGV


Christmas trees can be dropped every Saturday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. from Dec. 28, 2019, to Feb. 8, 2020, at 4501 Padre Boulevard.

South Padre Island residents may place their tree curbside anytime until Feb. 8, 2020.

All trees must have ornaments, lights, nails, and tree stands removed before recycling.

All recycled trees will be turned into mulch that can be used in gardens to safeguard plants from winter weather.

Mulch will be available for free on a first-come, first-served basis at the City of Port Isabel Public Works Department, located at 217 W. Hickman, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Please bring your own tools and storage containers for loading and transporting the mulch.

For more information, call (956) 761-8123.

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Rehabilitated turtles return to the Gulf

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — More than 100 people gathered Wednesday at Isla Blanca Park on South Padre Island to witness the release of seven rehabilitated Atlantic green sea turtles.

The turtles were rescued, treated and released into the Gulf of Mexico by officials at Sea Turtle Inc., a nonprofit turtle rescue and rehabilitation center on the Island.

The turtles — named Dante, Lizzo, JAAMS, Stout, Cinderblock, Rainbow and Nickelback — were all Atlantic green sea turtles that were at the facility for different reasons, such as being stuck in rocks or being hooked accidentally by fishermen.

“ The turtles came in for various reasons,” said Nina Nahvi, licensed veterinarian at Sea Turtle Inc. “They were at the hospital for various amounts of times. Some of them were there for months, and others for just a couple of weeks.”

Nahvi said Dante was at the facility the longest, being admitted there in August. He was recovering from wounds. Other turtles were there for shorter periods of time, such as only two weeks.

“ All the turtles get blood work done, X-rays, medication — everything like that,” she said. “And all of them were more than ready to go back home.”

The ones that were at the center for the shortest period were Cinderblock and Rainbow.

An Atlantic green sea turtle is ready to be released into the Gulf of Mexico as Sea Tutle Inc Director Jeff George shows the turtle to a large crowd on South Padre Island as volunteers and staff help release them during a public event at Isla Blanca Park.
An Atlantic green sea turtle is ready to be released into the Gulf of Mexico as Sea Tutle Inc on South Padre Island as volunteers and staff help release them during a public event at Isla Blanca Park.
An Atlantic green sea turtle is ready to be released into the Gulf of Mexico as Sea Tutle Inc Director Jeff George shows the turtle to a large crowd on South Padre Island as volunteers and staff help release them during a public event at Isla Blanca Park.
An Atlantic green sea turtle is ready to be released into the Gulf of Mexico as Sea Tutle Inc. on South Padre Island as volunteers help release them during a public event at Isla Blanca Park.
Seven Atlantic green sea turtles are ready to be released into the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday as Sea Tutle Inc. on South Padre Island as volunteers help release them during a public event at Isla Blanca Park.
An Atlantic green sea turtle is ready to be released into the Gulf of Mexico as Sea Tutle Inc Director Jeff George shows the turtle to a large crowd on South Padre Island as volunteers and staff help release them during a public event at Isla Blanca Park.
An Atlantic green sea turtle is ready to be released into the Gulf of Mexico Thursday as Sea Tutle Inc. on South Padre Island as volunteers and staff help release them during a public event at Isla Blanca Park.
An Atlantic green sea turtle is ready to be released into the Gulf of Mexico Thursday as Sea Tutle Inc. on South Padre Island as volunteers help release them during a public event at Isla Blanca Park.
An Atlantic green sea turtle is ready to be released into the Gulf of Mexico as Sea Tutle Inc Director Jeff George shows the turtle to a large crowd on South Padre Island as volunteers and staff help release them during a public event at Isla Blanca Park.

“ They came in about two weeks ago, both hooked by fishermen accidentally,” Nahvi said. “It is a nice sunny day, and they are ready to go home.”

Sea Turtle Inc. was founded in 1977 by Ila Fox Loetscher, better known as “The Turtle Lady of South Padre Island.” In 1999, Sea Turtle, Inc. moved from Ila’s backyard into its current location at 6617 Padre Blvd.

Originally, this organization was formed to aid in the protection and recovery of the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Their mission has since expanded to include other sea turtles. The group’s current mission includes three parts: education, rehabilitation and conservation, the official website reads.

Today, Sea Turtle, Inc. is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit that is funded through public donations and on-site gift shop sales. They do not receive any government funding.

For more information about future events, log on to or call (956) 761-4511.

Nubia Reyna

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