Paragraphs Books voted number one bookstore in Texas

Book readers across the state selected Paragraphs Books on the Boulevard as the number one bookstore in Texas.

“We offer all types of books, new releases hardbacks and paperback, used, children’s, poetry, plays and sidelines such as cards, bookmarks, games, art and toys,” said Joni Montover, Paragraphs Books store owner.

Nearly 2,500 of Lone Star Literary Life’s readers cast ballots in the statewide contest during May to recognize Texas’s favorite bookstores.

Lone Star Literary Life helps readers, publishers, booksellers and authors by connecting them with resources to find and build their audience.

Paragraphs climbed to the top rank of the club’s list of top bookstores in Texas after being named the number three store in Texas last year.

Paragraphs was chosen over 300 bookstores in Texas.

The competiton included big indies, small indies, chain stores, used bookstores and new book stores from every corner of the state.

Paragraphs is an independent, community orientated bookstore located on South Padre Island.

Currently, Paragraphs is the only full-services bookstore in Cameron County.

The store first opened its doors for business in 2009.

The Island bookstore offers a vast collection of titles in poetry, nature history, classic literature, fiction and nonfiction.

Book readers on the Island can find interesting books like “Gone With the Wind,” “The Fountainhead,” “The Wind in the Willows” and more.

It’s a 40-minute driver from Harlingen and Brownsville and a 90 minute-drive from McAllen.

Paragraphs hosts book signings throughout the year to allow many self-published authors to share their work in person.

“It’s part of the store mission to help promote literacy in the Lower Rio Grande Valley by hosting numerous book signings and we are happy to allow many self-published authors the opportunity to interact with potential readers in person,” Montover said.

Based on participation and interest, Paragraphs Books offers children’s story time, a book club, writers group and play reading group meetings monthly.

“We welcome groups to use our store for small gatherings or a place to meet and discuss issues important to the community,” Montover said.

By RAUL GARCIA Staff Writer

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New Technique May Boost Ocelot Habitat Restoration

Native plants in the Rio Grande Valley are nothing if not tenacious.

Each one seems to have some type of thorn or sticker or tough skin designed to make it as difficult as possible to eat, or enabling it to fend off insects or to keep from being colonized by parasites.

But even our resilient and drought-resistant flora can use a helping hand.

A program at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is attempting to do just that. The goal? Accelerating the complete restoration of native Tamaulipan thornscrub from 25 to 30 years to maybe half that time.

“Those tree protectors we call them – tree tubes or tree protectors — they do two major things to help the plant survive,” said Kim Wahl, a plant biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who is leading the restoration effort.

“Without them on, rodents and rabbits will chew them down until just little nubs,” Wahl said last week.

“They also protect against natural elements like sunlight, and the dew will condense inside the tube and run down the tube,” she added. “The humidity inside those tubes is higher, and the temperature is a little bit lower.”

The tubes also cut off some of the eternal Valley winds, and the plants end up with a better growth environment.

Re-establishing native habitat from what is now Rio GrandeValley farmland is both time and labor intensive. It was only 100 years ago, prior to the agricultural revolution that arrived with electricity, pumps and irrigation, when practically the entire Valley was covered in dense thornscrub.

Wahl said about 275 acres were replanted between October and March this year to restore Tamaulipan thornscrub in Cameron and Hidalgo counties. Most of that acreage was planted without the protection of the 3-foot tree tubes.

Among the species planted at Laguna Atascosa were snake eyes or devil queen, Texas torchwood, crucita or Christmas bush, trixis or American threefold, lantana, Berlandier croton and Manzanita, or Barbados cherry, Wahl said.

For her part, Wahl is less interested in overall restoration recovery time than she is in how animal and plant species adapt to the new habitat. She says wildlife can use the plots almost immediately after planting.

“I don’t know if we have a good idea of just how much time it will take” to completely restore the thornscrub habitat, Wahl said.

“But from the time we plant, it becomes useful right away for small mammals, rodents, pollinators like bees and butterflies that first year, and then to be useful for birds, it needs to start seed production or the trees get large enough for nesting,” she said.

“From there, you are beginning to be more beneficial for larger mammals and ultimately we’re looking at making these areas suitable habitat for ocelots,” Wahl said.

At any one time, there are about 15 of the endangered Texas subspecies of ocelot on the Laguna Atascosa refuge, and about 80 in South Texas. Restoration of habitat is considered a key component to saving the wildcats, which, unlike their bobcat cousins, can be quite particular when it comes to preferred habitat.

By RICK KELLEY | Staff Writer

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Isla Blanca Residents’ Stay Uncertain During Park Renovations

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND – Isla Blanca Park will soon undergo major renovations totaling about $20 million. That means some people who rent RV spaces won't get to reserve their usual spot as they have been doing for decades.

Some people told CHANNEL 5 NEWS they stay at Isla Blanca for part of the year. Others said they stay almost year-round.

Telesforo Atkinson has been at the same spot for 37 years. He built his own garden with palm trees, flowers, and even a sprinkler system. He's upset he can't reserve the spot he calls his second home for the upcoming season.

"It's a community here," Atkinson said. "We're all family. We are seven or eight families that are kinfolk here. People from up north come that we associate with, that we fish together with - it's our community."

Atkinson said this could be the last year he gets to enjoy his stay. Many residents received a notice at check-in the first of the month.

It notified them of renovations that will be happening at the park, including electrical upgrades and a new campground design.

The notice reads in part:

"Because of this, and the yet to be determined construction schedule, effective immediately, we will not be taking reservations for next season."

Cameron County Parks Director Joe Vega signed the notice. He told CHANNEL 5 NEWS Friday that he understands long-time residents' sentiments, but adds it's something that must be done for the betterment of the entire park.

"We're going to look into doing a boardwalk that connects from one pavilion to the other pavilion," Vega said. "The other proposed improvements (are) to build new restrooms (and) a new amphitheater with a multi-purpose building. We are also looking into building a new lifeguard station."

Vega said $20 million worth of improvements means a lot of construction will be taking place. That's why he can't promise RV residents a place to stay.

"This will allow us to build - to have all the sites nice and uniform, and not only that, we’re going to be doing some nice landscaping in the park," Vega said. "We want to make this park look very nice, not only for our current RV guests to enjoy but for future generations to enjoy as well."

For now, Atkinson said he'll enjoy every moment he has left in his paradise by the sea. He said park officials told him no one is guaranteed a spot at the park past this summer.

Vega said they still don't know what part of the park will be worked on first.

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Texas Game Wardens, Coast Guard Escort Independence to Port

On a wooden dock near a flock of brown pelicans, members of the Texas Game Wardens’ Marine Tactical Operations Group went over the plans and details of a joint-mission to bring the decommissioned USS Independence safely to rest at the Port of Brownsville.

The mission took several hours as several federal, state and local law enforcement agencies worked together to keep curious boaters, tour vessels and potential threats away from the tugboat group as it worked to bring the massive Forrestal-class aircraft carrier through the ship channel.

With positions around the Independence assigned, the outboard engines on the Game Wardens’ SAFE boat clicked into gear outside the Coast Guard station.

“Coming up!” Captain Luis Sosa shouted as the bow of the boat raised and sped off toward the Gulf of Mexico for the four-mile trip to meet the Independence at sea, where the escort mission was to begin.

The purpose of the security and safety perimeter was to ensure the safety of spectators and, ultimately, the integrity of the ship channel. Sosa explained the “trickle down” effect a closed ship channel would have if it were closed.

Theoretically, had an attack on the Independence occurred, she could occlude the channel used by shrimpers, local fisherman and ultimately the Port of Brownsville. Such a closure could become an economic disaster for one of the busiest international trade ports in the United States. With large LNG vessels written into the port’s future, Sosa explained that escort missions could become more commonplace in the ship channel.

With swelling seas and a mere 2- to 3-knot travel speed, boaters and tour vessels were encroaching on the Independence as she made her final voyage into port. The large-twin outboard engines on the Game Wardens’ vessel quickly brought the boat over the swells as Sosa maneuvered his crew between the civilian boat the Independence.

Shortly after, a tour vessel came near the security perimeter. Again, Sosa performed an intercept maneuver to defend the decommissioned and powerless Independence.

With the security group making its way into the jetties, the number of targets of interest grew as numerous personal fishing boats, jet skis, pontoons and tour boats cluttered together to get as close as possible to the majestic ship. Each one was considered a safety and security concern during the multi-hour operation.

Game Warden Carmen Rickel took over at the helm, intercepting multiple civilian craft as crews from the U.S. Coast Guard pushed forward to block and redirect other vessels attempting to share the ship channel. Some shallow-draft bait-shrimp boats were forced to maneuver in as little as 8 feet of water to yield use of the entire channel.

A group of tug vessels, all with the name “Signet,” worked as one to move the Independence through the channel. At the lead was the Signet Thunder. A single line attached her to the anchor chain of the Independence, providing forward propulsion for the group.

On the sides of the bow were the Signet Challenger and the Signet Magic, applying their thrust in sync to steer the Independence between the narrowing channel markers. Attached to the stern was the Signet Arcturis, controlling the stern and fighting a cross-wind as the Independence acted as a massive sail for even the slightest breeze. 

By JASON HOEKEMA | Staff Photojournalist

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Get ready to cross the Causeway on foot

More than 1,600 people are expected to run and walk across the Queen Isabella Cause-way tomorrow morning, June 3.

It’s the third annual Summer Longest Causeway Run and Fitness Walk starting at Schlitterbahn and ending at the Port Isabel Event and Cultural Center. It gives participants a summer opportunity to cross the 2.6 mile causeway on foot.

This event is patterned after the 33-year-old January run/walk, but this with a different course.

The 6.2 mile (10K) course weaves through the waterfront loop in Isla Blanca Park before heading to the Causeway.

Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce President Betty Wells is excited about another event.

“We’ve been preparing for this for more than four months,” Wells said. “We just hope for wonderful weather.”

If it’s a little too hot, Wells is quick to point out there will be a number of residents along the route “hosing” participants off with water as well as the Port Isabel Fire Truck, too. There also are two additional water spots than previous years.

The chamber started the event on the heels of the successful January Causeway Run. The weekend after Memorial Day and before the real start of summer was chosen to bring people to the island area who may not come at that time of the year.

Last year, there were 1,671 participants and Wells said she is hoping for more this year. As of earlier this week, registration was at 1,300, ahead of the pace for the 2016 event.

“We always hope for an increase,” she said. “We are just pleased people support and enjoy this event each year.”

In order to impact the bridge as minimally as possible, only the outside lane of the eastbound lanes will be closed for the race. Wells suggested visitors to the Island early that morning should prepare for some delays due to the event.

There will be prizes and medals awarded for overall winners and those in age groups.

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Valley Native Recalls His Days on the USS Independence

William Dorsett hasn’t seen the USS Independence since his three-year stint with the Navy came to an end in December 1970.

The Rancho Viejo resident and Port Isabel native, who served aboard the Independence for three years and two Mediterranean tours, was excited by the prospect of seeing it again after all these years as it’s towed to the Port of Brownsville for scrapping.

Originally the ship was supposed to be here in February or March, though its departure from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., was delayed. Because of a family commitment in Dallas, it looks like Dorsett won’t get to see the Independence come in after all. The latest estimate for its arrival is June 1.

Friends have promised to take lots of photos, though, and Dorsett knows he’ll be able to see it from State Highway 48 where the road passes International Shipbreaking Ltd., part of the EMR Group, the company that will be dismantling the vessel under contract for the Navy.

Dorsett completed boot camp in San Diego, Calif., and then was sent to Norfolk, Va., to report aboard ship. The years haven’t dimmed his memory of seeing the Independence for the first time. The teenager who’d grown up in Port Isabel and Brownsville had never seen anything so big in his life.

“It’s awesome, walking up to the ship,” he said.

Dorsett was a radar man, having studied electronics in the Navy, which led to a career in computer electronics after his military service. He likened the ship’s radar room, with its futuristic glowing consoles, to the bridge of the starship Enterprise. Dorsett’s Navy service took him to exotic ports of call in countries like Germany, Italy, Malta and Cuba.

“I actually went to Guantanamo,” he said. “Drank a couple of rums, at a nickel of shot. We got to go to a lot of neat places.”

It was also dangerous and frightening at times — especially the botched landings. Dorsett said he witnessed two planes overshoot the runway and go over the side, a sight he describes as horrific. At least five pilots were lost during his time aboard the Independence, Dorsett said, noting that night flight operations were especially dicey.

“It looks like they’re coming in to crash every time, and they sound that way too,” he said. “They’re landing on a matchbox.”

Dorsett said he wishes the Independence could have been saved and turned into a museum, though the carrier — commissioned in 1959 and decommissioned in 1998 — was stripped heavily after being mothballed to support the Navy’s active carrier fleet.

“That’s what I wish, and a lot of guys like me, so our kids and grandkids could see it at least,” he said. “It’s a shame.”

Dorsett said he learned discipline while in the Navy, which served him well since he went back to college after he got out, earning a master’s degree in business from St. John’s University. His Navy training also prepared him for many types of jobs in the electronics industry, he said.

But most important, perhaps, are the friends he made.

“You know it’s part of your life, and a good part in my estimation,” Dorsett said. “And you make lifelong friends, which you still have. When people tell me thank you for your service I tell them, ‘It was a pleasure.’”

By STEVE CLARK | Staff Writer

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Carrier slightly delayed: ETA for former USS Independence is now June 1

And things were going so well.

The decommissioned USS Independence “supercarrier” was nearing the end of its 16,000-mile journey to the Port of Brownsville from Bremerton, Wash., earlier this week when the tow vessel’s portside main engine failed, slowing the ship’s progress from 9 knots to 7.2 knots.

The Independence was scheduled to arrive at the Port of Brownsville on May 30, but now is expected to arrive late on May 31 barring any further issues. Right now it’s anticipated that the carrier, being towed to Brownsville for scrapping, will come through the Brazos Santiago Pass between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. on June 1.

A ceremony to honor the Independence and the veterans who served on her will be held at Dolphin Cove in Isla Blanca Park as the carrier makes its way from the jetties to the Brownsville Ship Channel. Robert Berry, vice president of International Shipbreaking Ltd., part of the EMR Group, which won the Navy contract to dismantle the ship, said parking is always an issue when a carrier comes in, so people should arrive early.

The ceremony will feature comments from port and ISL officials, a color guard, salute and the National Anthem as the Independence passes by, he said. Berry said the ceremony won’t be elaborate, but is meant to give veterans something official by which to remember the occasion.

Meanwhile, the 60,000-ton Independence and its tow vessel, the Dino Chouest, were between Venezuela and Cuba and on Thursday and making headway toward Brownsville despite the loss of an engine, with good weather on the horizon. It takes a lot to slow down a tow vessel of this size, Berry said.

“This is a big tugboat, he said. “It’s the biggest one I’ve ever dealt with in a lifetime of dealing with tugboat.

By Steve Clark, Staff writer

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Three scholarship winners: El Paseo Arts Foundation honors students

 After 10 years of continuous growth in providing a diverse program of the Arts to the lower Rio Grande Valley due largely to the loyal and generous support of sponsors and members, The El Paseo Arts Foundation, Inc. decided by a unanimous positive vote of our Board of Directors to give back to our community.

The board also decided the youth, the next generations of leaders and art lovers in our communities, should be the direct recipients of this action.

Thus, in 2012, the foundation began the “El Paseo Scholarship Program” to recognize local high school seniors who have chosen to continue their education in a field of study in any of the Arts Genre.

In 2012 the organization awarded one $500 scholarship.

In 2013 two were awarded, then three in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

In 2013 the foundation all lost a wonderful, talented, giving person so special to El Paseo and so many others in our local area — Guy Blatnik.

The Board immediately moved to name our scholarship program “The Guy Blatnik Memorial Scholarship Program.”

This year not only is the foundation awarding two new scholarships, but also awarding one renewable award to a recipient from our 2016 program.

So long as an awardee continues their successful studies in an arts genre, and verified by a documented process, the foundation will renew the scholarship for up to two years.

The ability of El Paseo to execute this wonderful program for the deserving youth of our communities is only possible through the goodness, bigheartedness, and generosity of all of the members of our communities who have played such an active role in this magnificent program.

In April, for example, El Paseo friends and partners at Paragraphs Bookstore, hosted a superb concert by two of our fabulous local musicians, Nancy Cook and Brett Marshall, raising over $2000 for our Scholarship Program.

The winners of this year’s awards are Abigail Cisneros and Dalton Swink. Marina Wise-Herring.

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Miss South Padre Island Scholarship Pageant set for May 26, 27

On May 27, Miss South Padre Island 2017, will be crowned.

Don’t miss the opportunity to become a leader by winning this prestigious title.

Elite Productions is seeking applicants who live in the Rio Grande Valley and are between the ages of 5 and 24.

The age divisions are Princess 5-6, Little Miss 7-8, Pre-Teen 9-11, Jr. Teen 12-14, Teen 15-18, and Miss 19-24.

“We are excited and can’t wait to meet the contestants,” said Minerva Olivarez, Executive Director of Elite Productions.

All winners will receive a beautiful rhinestone tiara, custom embroidered sash, custom rose bouquet, a glass-cut trophy, rhinestone crown pin, and an incredible prize package.

The winner of the teen division will receive a $500 scholarship, and the winner of the miss division will receive a $1,000 scholarship.

Winners will also have the opportunity to give back to the community by volunteering their time with events throughout their reign.

The deadline to register is May 24, 2017.

Contestants will be judged on their performance in three areas: personal interview, formal wear, and beachwear. Participants do not need any previous experience to compete.

The beachwear portion of the competition will be held at Clayton’s on May 26 at 4 p.m., and the full pageant will be held at the South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau on May 27 at 7 p.m.

The winner will be eligible to compete in the Miss United States Pageant in 2018.

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Shipbreaker Completes Salvage of Former USS Constellation

International Shipbreaking Ltd. just finished dismantling one aircraft carrier at the Port of Brownsville and is about to take delivery of another one.

The company, part of the EMR Group, lifted the last piece of the former USS Constellation — a roughly 12,000-pound propeller shaft strut — out of the water on May 10, two years and a few months after the steel behemoth arrived at Brownsville for scrapping, according to International Shipbreaking Vice President Robert Berry.

The decommissioned USS Independence, which left Bremerton, Wash., March 11 under tow for the 16,000-mile trip around the tip of South America to Brownsville, is expected to arrive May 31 or June 1, he said.

Berry said he’s trying to get a firmer estimated-time-of-arrival, since the company is planning a ceremony at Isla Blanca Park for veterans who served on the carrier, which was commissioned in 1959 and decommissioned in 1998.

The company is holding the ceremony in response to feedback from numerous veterans of other carriers that have come to Brownsville, who felt a tribute of some sort should take place. The Independence will be the fifth Navy “supercarrier” to arrive at the port for scrapping.

Berry said taking apart such a large vessel is a monumental undertaking, while the ships themselves can mean a great deal to the people who were stationed on them. Tens of thousands of people will have served on a carrier by the time it’s decommissioned, and according to veterans groups as many as 85 percent of those stationed aboard vessels that were retired in the last 20 years are still living, he said.

“When it’s a fighting ship there’s always a lot of memories and a lot of reflection over the life of that ship and all the people that served on it,” Berry said.

The company also fields inquiries from many veterans and their families seeking mementos — the plastic plaques above ships’ doorways are much in demand, for example, he said. The company has an eBay store with such items from recycled vessels, Berry said.

“We move a lot of stuff,” he said. “It’s not what we do for a living, but it’s part of what we do because we think it’s the right thing to do.”


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