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Spring Break 2018 Much Safer

Shane Wilson and his wife ditch their house on the Island every year during Spring Break.

They go out of town to relax and have fun away from spring breakers.

“It has been chaotic in the past,” Shane said during his address to the City Council recently.

But that is not what he had to say about Spring Break this year.

“Spring Break was much safer this year than I think it ever has been.”

He said when he and his wife returned home at the end of Texas week they were surprised to find the Island as clean as it was when they left.

Shane ended his statements about Spring Break applauding police and the city departments for working as hard as they did to make it safer for everyone on the Island this year.

“Every Spring Break is different and every year we look to see how we can prepare for the next year,” Police Chief Randy Smith said. “The city was well prepared for this year’s Spring Break.”

That’s somewhat opposite of what appeared to be a rough 2017 Spring Break.

Incidents in 2017 led some residents to call for an end to Spring Break.

But this year apparently was different.

Island police have released preliminary numbers of arrests, incidents and calls made to the department during Spring Break, which ran from March 9 to March 19.

“The number of calls for service was down — possibly due to the increase in officers on the streets,” Mayor Dennis Stahl said. “We had significantly more officers on duty this year.”

The officers on the streets were likely seeing issues before they were called in.

STILL PROBLEMS

One of the many arrests made by authorities during Spring Break this year was of a woman walking down Padre Boulevard carrying a ziplock bag full of marijuana.

She was spotted by police and arrested immediately.

“We had FBI, DEA, DPS, Texas Rangers, so many agencies were on the Island to help us and our efforts,” said Susan Guthrie, SPI city manager. “And I’m so very proud of our police and fire departments.”

Clayton’s Beach Bar owner Clayton Brashear hosted some of the largest parties on the Island every day last month.

SUPER SECURITY

“What I saw this year was a lot of security,” Brashear said. “We were heavy on security, and I believe that detoured anybody thinking they were going to do something wrong on South Padre Island.”

He said the level of security was high — everyone saw police units coming off the causeway.

“I think that really helped us,” Brashear said.

One of the most important numbers that dropped from last year were deaths during the Spring Break.

Last year there were three deaths and this year none.

“I have been here 30 years and this is the first time a death was not reported,” said Paul Munarriz, SPI mayor pro-tem. “That was amazing.”

The number of people in the jail was up very slightly — not significantly.

The offical numbers is expected to be released next month.

“After all the revenues, expenses, and debriefs have been completed, we plan to present a complete transparent report to our citizens,” Stahl said. “We will begin work in April to debrief and start planning for improvements next year.

“Overall, we were pleased with most aspects of Spring Break,” Stahl said. “It appears many establishments had a better year than last.”

Café Karma store owner William Everett said this was his first Spring Break as a business owner and didn’t know what to expect.

But for the most part he was pleased with the spring breakers.

“This year felt much less chaotic than last,” Everett said. “More police on the roads, more sirens, more arrests. I don’t know if that’s statistically correct, but that was my perception.”

garcia@valleystar.com

South Padre Island police preliminary data comparison Spring Break 2018 and last year

2018 numbers

3/9 to 3/19

• Calls for service 2,237

• Jail 499

• Accidents 120

• Incidents 621

2017 numbers

3/10 to 3/20

• Calls for service 2,384

• Jail 479

• Accidents 156

• Incidents 588

Participating agencies

FBI

DEA

DPS

Texas Rangers

Number of law enforcement

2018/ 190

2017/ no data

2016/ 117

By RAUL GARCIA Staff Writer


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SPI Leaders Grinding Out Skate Park Plans

Airwalks, pop shuvits, 50-50 grinds and boardslides are some of the skate tricks thrashers want to land at the future Tompkins Park skate facility.

They have been waiting for nearly five years. And they will have to wait a little longer before dropping into a ramp or concrete bowl.

This past week, city leader’s kickflipped the skate park project back into committee and cleared the air of any ideas they were going to turn it into a dog park or walking trail.

“By rejecting the bids the City Council is not rejecting the skate park,” Mayor Dennis Stahl said.

The council unanimously rejected the only two bids they received from two skate park builders at the last city meeting.

The bids, received in March, exceeded the spending limit. That was the problem.

“I need you all to reject the bids and let us continue to gather the funds needed,” said Darla Jones, SPI assistant city manager.

She recommended plans to build the skate park continue.

Talks had surfaced on the Internet the city wanted to kill the project because of lack of funds or lost grants.

“Don’t reject the idea of building it,” Jones told the council.

Unlike in the past, the city may now qualify for funds from the Tony Hawk Foundation to help pay for the park.

“We want a skate park and it’s up to other people to do it,” Stahl said. “Boiling it all down, rejecting bids does not mean we are killing the skate park.”

The mayor also had other ideas to get the project rolling.

He said one way would be with the help of the skateboarding community working together to raise funds or adding the skate park into the Parks and Wildlife grant for phase two of the park.

“The council approved it but it’s up to the communities and the EDC to do this stuff,” Stahl said.

The EDC donated $100,000 for the concept and construction of the skate park. From those funds, $10,000 was used for the design of the park.

Council leaders also noted the price for concrete has doubled since 2012.

Currently, there is a balance of $90,000 which the Island has to build the skate park.

Jones also said there is a GoFundMe page online to raise additional funds.

Many local residents and skateboarders stood in solidarity at the last meeting to show their interest in seeing the skate park become a reality.

“Obviously people want it,” said Alita Bagely, SPI councilwomen. “And there are a lot of people who still want the skate park.”

 

By RAUL GARCIA Staff Writer


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County Breaks Ground on More Isla Blanca Improvements

 Cameron County officials gathered yesterday at Isla Blanca Park for a groundbreaking ceremony on $17 million in improvements to the gulf-facing side of the park.

They implored visitors to have patience as construction that will move beach pavilions 200 feet inland commences ahead of summer.

“The final result will be well, well worth it,” said Emilio Escobar, chairman of the Parks Advisory Board, during the ceremony at D.J. Lerma Pavilion.

When the overhaul is completed next year, amenities will include new pavilions with a connecting boardwalk, dune walkovers, picnic tables, barbecue areas, 280 additional parking spaces and more. The new design also eliminates vehicle traffic between the parking lot and the beach, which officials said will increase safety.

“The public that comes to our beaches deserves the best,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Sofia C. Benavides said. She noted that $6 million in upgrades are underway in the park’s Dolphin Cove area.

Construction will take place in phases to ensure park visitors still have access to the parking lot and beach. The Sandpiper Pavilion was demolished in March and is slated to be reconstructed by year’s end, weather permitting. Work on the new D.J. Lerma Pavilion will start in June.

“We have the best county coastal parks in the Gulf Coast, and they’re fixing to get better,” Parks Director Joe Vega said.

Isla Blanca Park snagged the No. 7 spot on USA Today’s list of the 10 best Texas beaches.

Robert Lerma, son of the late county judge for whom the pavilion is named, lauded the project and said he recalled the opening of the original site in 1987.

“Thank you for keeping his name alive,” Lerma said.

The county has partnered with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and Texas A&M University-Kingsville on dune mitigation.

By NADIA TAMEZ-ROBLEDO Staff Writer


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SpaceX asks FAA to green lightGulf of Mexico splashdowns

The Federal Aviation Administration released a Draft Environmental Assessment analyzing a SpaceX proposal to conduct splashdowns in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Gulf of Mexico would serve as a possible splashdown location for Dragon missions originating from the SpaceX South Texas Launch Site (currently under construction) and a contingency landing location for Dragon missions originating from Florida,” the document states.

SpaceX needs a re-entry license for spacecraft descending to Earth from the International Space Station, to which the company delivers supplies. SpaceX hopes to one day deliver and return astronauts from the facility, which orbits the planet.

The human component to future missions is one reason that SpaceX is looking for another place, aside from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, to conduct splashdowns.

“The ability to return crew to Earth in a safe and timely manner is extremely important, particularly in cases where human life or health may be in jeopardy,” the document states.

By MARK REAGAN Staff Writer


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Migrating birds stack up on Island, create ‘spectacle’

Even the best-laid avian migratory planning can fall afoul of a north wind.

Two recent cold fronts have created a bonanza, “a crazy thing, like a spectacle,” on South Padre Island, said Javier Gonzalez, naturalist educator at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.

Gonzalez said birders are spotting 100 different species a day on the Island as the tired flyers take a break on their migration northward.

“It’s been a pretty incredible last couple of days out here with the last couple of cold fronts that hit pretty much back to back,” Gonzalez said. “It really stalled the migration and brought down a lot of migratory birds of all different species here on the Island.”

It’s a scenario known as a “fallout,” and this week Gonzalez said the Island has been awash in 20 different species of warblers alone, along with vireos, tanagers, orioles, buntings and shorebirds.

“April is a big migration month through our area and our predominant winds are from the south, or the southeast, and the birds are riding on these strong winds, kind of hopping and flying right over us really,” Gonzalez said.

“A lot of these birds are actually trans-gulf migrants, meaning that some of them are wintering in the tropics down by the Yucatan and instead of going around on land they’ll be flying over the Gulf of Mexico.”

Shortcut it may be, but it’s still a long, 600mile flight with no place to rest.

“So they’re riding on these south winds, but all of a sudden, we have these late-season cold fronts that come in, and instead of tailwinds, they’re riding into headwinds,” he added. “That really tires them out and they drop at the first sight of land sometimes, and a lot of the times that is South Padre Island.”

April is a big month for birding on the Island due to the spring migration. Usually the entire month is prime birding time but last year the flocks coming over South Padre Island often stopped just briefly or just kept flying.

“We’re starting with a bang right now,” Gonzalez said. “Last year, it wasn’t quite like this, because we had a lot of southern winds in early April and it wasn’t until later in the month that we saw more birds. “But this year, right off the bat, we’re seeing a lot,” he added.

Even better news for birders is yet another cold front is coming into the Valley this Friday night and Saturday. While there’s a good chance of rain on Saturday to accompany 20-mph winds from the north, Sunday should be sunny and 71 on the Island. Winds will be just 9 mph from the north, and the front could trigger another fallout for the migrating birds.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


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Restore Act - Eco-Tourism Center North

The project will protect a variety of rare habitats on the island, most critically, nearly 22 acres of algal and cyanobacteria intertidal flats which provide some of the highest primary productivity for the island and provide feeding, breeding, and nursery grounds for a great variety of fish, shellfish, birds, and other wildlife. The conservation lands also include:

2 acres of brackish pond
6 acres of Black Mangrove forest
5 acres of wind-tidal flats
5 acres of cyanobacteria habitat (algal flats)
4 acres of mud and sand flats
5 acres of estuarine/intertidal wetlands

 

The public access, recreation and education improvements include:

Elevated boardwalk connecting the existing causeway trail network from the Nature center
Educational signage covering coastal habitat and conservation
One kayak launch
Birding/Fishing Platform
Observation/University Education Deck
2 Parking Areas

The project is complimentary to the adjoining Sea Turtle Inc. facility, Ocean Trust Native Plant Center and the SPI Birding & Nature Center. Taken together, these “environmental education” facilities preserve more than 200 acres of Laguna Madre-fronting lands and will provide great eco-tourism, education and public access facilities for the community and visitors. The City has obtained documentation of willing sellers for the five parcels proposed for acquisition.

Click here for more information....


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Mexican tourists travel through dangerous routes to spend Easter in Texas

While Spring Break may be over for most people across the country, that doesn’t mean tourism in South Padre Island is slowing down. With Easter week in full swing, the city expects about 13,000 vehicles coming in a day, many of which are coming from Mexico.

Cars with Mexican license plates are a sign that, despite the potentially dangerous journey, it’s still worth bringing the family on a vacation in the U.S. for many Mexicans.

For 23-year-old Estefani Carreon, it’s a family tradition, especially during holy week.

“We have an aunt who lives in McAllen and, when we come to visit, we all go to the island,” Carreon said.

For Mexican families to enjoy a vacation on the Texas coast means assuming certain risks, risks Guillermo Rocha and his family are fully aware of.

“Of course, we’re exposing ourselves,” Rocha said. “But if we don’t do it, we’re just going to stay at home behind closed doors.”

That’s no longer an option for many families tired of living in fear due to cartel violence.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. State Department updated the “do not travel” list of Mexican states. Tamaulipas, which borders the southern tip of Texas, often sees kidnappings and shootouts between police and cartels.

Mexican families like the Rocha’s are always looking for the quickest and safest way to the U.S. border.

“As soon as I cross over and set foot on U.S. soil, I feel relaxed, calm, safe more than anything,” Rocha admitted.

Taking a peaceful trip isn’t a luxury many in Mexico can afford. At the same time, these are tourists the Texas economy can't afford to lose.

Author: Oscar Margain


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Barry Patel Inducted into 2018 RGV Walk of Fame

Each year nominations are received from chambers of commerce and cities across the Rio Grande Valley for recognition in the Rio Grande Valley Walk of Fame at State Farm Arena, sponsored by the City of Hidalgo in conjunction with BorderFest.

Nominees are considered for induction based on their life achievements and significant civic contributions.

The South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce nominated longtime chamber member and Island business owner Barry Patel to the RGV Walk of Fame for 2018. Patel was selected for this great honor and was recognized at the official induction ceremonies last month at State Farm Arena.

The building of seven hotels on South Padre Island, and a total of 22 in the Valley by Barry Patel has resulted in a $400 million economic impact, and the employment of 500 to 600 people in the ongoing operation of the hotels.

In addition to being a widely recognized leading hotel developer and respected businessman, Patel is a dedicated South Padre Island community leader serving on numerous committees over the years including the past three years as Mayor for South Padre Island.

He continues to share his vision for the future of South Padre, and is currently constructing a new Marriot Hotel on the Island.

The economic impact of Patel’s hotel developments has been extraordinary, and as public servant he has initiated and carried out a significant number of projects important to the continuing development of South Padre Island as a premier tourism destination, and as home to Island residents.

During his public service to South Padre Island, Patel has accomplished and/or laid the ground Convention Centre renovation; Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge boardwalk repairs; sidewalks on Padre Blvd.; Gulf Blvd reconstruction and improvements; extension of the Padre Blvd. median project; establishment of a venue tax and proposed improvement projects; legislation to generate tax funds earmarked to improve Laguna Madre Bay accessibility; received three major grants for parks, Padre Blvd. and Corral Street ramps; 1st phase construction of Tompkins Park; improvement plan and start of improvements to all side streets with curbs and gutters; improved working relationship with Cameron County Commissioners; and helped win approval of the TERS designation for South Padre.

While serving on the SPI Convention and Visitors Authority, Patel was instrumental in crafting legislation, and advocating with State legislators and State Tourism Officials, for a half percent increase in the hotel tax specifically for Island beach renourishment.

Because of these efforts, monies for maintaining the beautiful South Padre Island beaches are secured for the foreseeable future.

Barry Patel has consistently been committed in his support of local non-profit organizations, community events and public organizations, including South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce, South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, Sea Turtle Inc, Friends of Animal Rescue, U.S. Border Patrol, El Paseo Arts Foundation, and most all area events from walks, runs, fishing tournaments, Laguna Madre Education Foundation Scholarships, hospital fundraisers, and the list goes on. Without hesitation, Patel offers financial support, venues, support services and his personal time and energy for the benefit of our community.

Patel currently serves as Chairman on the Cameron County Beach & Dune Protection Committee and is an active member of the Asian American Hotel Owner’s Association. His past service on South Padre Island includes: Convention and Visitors Authority; Shoreline Taskforce; Chamber of Commerce; City Council; and City Mayor. For Cameron County he has served on the Appraisal Review Board, and on the Appraisal District Board of Directors.

Patel has been recognized by the RGV Hispanic Chamber; Indian Association of the RGV; Gujarati Samaj RGV; South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce as a Community Partner; and by the RGV Partnership.

With Bachelors Degree in Pharmacy from the University of Bradford in England and from Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Patel began his career as a pharmacist, and was registered in Texas, Florida and New York.

Patel’s family includes five brothers and one sister, all in Texas. Together they have 11 children and six grand children. Barry is married to Jayshree Patel.


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More Island Upgrades Underway

Cameron County is making headway with an overhaul of gulfside amenities at Isla Blanca Park on South Padre Island.

Parks Director Joe Vega said Friday that construction crews began demolishing the Sandpiper Pavilion, marking the start of $17 million in renovations that he said will improve accessibility and the overall visitor experience at the park.

“We’re very exited this project has begun,” he said. “(These are) some beautiful pavilions that we’re going to construct out there.”

The Sandpiper and D.J. Lerma pavilions will be reconstructed 200 feet inland from their original sites. They will be outfitted with new dune walkovers, picnic tables, restrooms and other amenities.

The parks department will connect the pavilions with a boardwalk that will have shaded seating and environmentally sensitive LED lights.

The gulfside area of Isla Blanca Parks also will gain an additional 280 parking spaces with more spots that meet ADA accessibility guidelines.

“We are making the necessary improvements to one of the premier parks on the Texas Gulf Coast so that families can continue enjoying Isla Blanca Park for many years to come,” County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. said in a news release. “We ask for your patience as we continue to make enhancements to our Coastal Parks.”

Cameron County is getting help on the construction from two universities. Texas A&M University-Kingsville is leading dune mitigation and preservation by harvesting vegetation that will be later transplanted to new dunes at the park.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley will provide management and oversight of construction for the new dune system. They are surveying the areas where existing dunes will be removed and where future dunes will be constructed, Vega said.

By NADIA TAMEZ-ROBLEDO Staff Writer


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Refuge Renews Push to Sow ‘Ocelot Acreage’

What once was a plot of land is turning into a plantation.

Building on the success of a 34-acre planting last year at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are back again with another 34-acre plot as they continue to restore native Tamaulipan thorn scrub for ocelot habitat.

“We wanted to plant it earlier in the year but we weren’t able to get out here as soon as I had hoped, so it’s a little bit on the tail end of our planting season,” said Kim Wahl, plant biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “But other than that, it’s getting a great planting crew, it’s getting the tree protectors, it’s getting initial watering, and then it will get grass control afterwards, so it’s getting everything that we can give it to give that high success rate.”

Last year, using innovative white plastic tree tubes to protect delicate seedlings from browsing animals like white-tailed deer and nilgai, the planting recorded a survival rate of 93 percent. Successful reforestation efforts without the tubes can be as low as 20 percent, or even zero percent.

The goal of the restoration efforts is to remove the dominant mesquite and non-native guinea grass to replicate the variety of fauna found in the Rio GrandeValley prior to the advent of major agricultural production during the early 1900s.

Beneficiaries will be the endangered Texas subspecies of ocelot, along with hundreds of other mammal, reptile and bird species in the Rio GrandeValley.

Some of the 34,000 native plants to be sown on the second 34-acre plot, like snake eyes or devil queen, Texas torchwood, crucita, trixis, lantana, Berlandier croton and Manzanita, are benefiting from another innovative planting/protection method called a cocoon.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


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