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Laguna Vista makes headway on center

LAGUNA VISTA — The small town of Laguna Vista is making headway on an ecotourism center that it hopes will attract more tourists.

Early last month, the town made an initial announcement about its plans to create a site that would work as an information and visitors center that would provide visitors with insight into the town’s ecosystem.

In November, Laguna Vista entered a partnership with Cameron County to build a learning center that would feature an outdoor theater, exhibit halls, trails and natural wetlands.

Laguna Vista City Manager Rolando Vela said the town is moving forward and applying for an Economic Development Administration grant for $800,000 to improve the water and sewer lines on Highway 100, where the center would be located. If approved, the county would be responsible for putting up $200,000 for the 80-20 grant match program.

“The first step for any development is to put in the infrastructure,” Vela said. “We are attempting to do that, should we be awarded this EDA grant.”

The development will be built on 23 acres of the town’s land. Only 10 acres will be used for the building.

Vela said the town wants the development to attract people driving on Highway 100, and allow them to stop and spend time in town.

“The South Texas Ecotourism Visitors Center, when completed, will showcase many of the environmentally rich and unique features of the county,” Vela said.

A 15-year comprehensive plan has been adopted that has updated the town’s subdivision and zoning ordinances in preparation for future commercial development that the town hopes the tourism center spurs in the future.

“The town is hoping that by working closely with the county to augment this partnership and by laying the groundwork with the infrastructure improvements on Highway 100 that we will be in a better position to attract development to this corridor,” Vela said.

By ALEXIS AGUIRRE Staff Writer


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Council commits $50,000 to reef project

Funding for the RGV Reef project, fleet maintenance, shoreline master planning, and updating storm drainage plans highlighted the South Padre Island City Council meeting held on June 6.

Council considered a proposed $50,000 budget amendment from Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) excess reserves for Friends of the RGV Reef for the development of fishing infrastructure as a part of their artificial reef project.

“The approval by the State legislature a while ago for utilization of Hotel Occupancy Tax for fishing infrastructure is one of the things that allows us to make this recommendation,” explained CVB Director Keith Arnold, adding that the request had the unanimous support of the Convention and Visitors Advisory Board. Arnold specified that the money would be used to transport materials to the reef. Council unanimously approved the request.

Alex Sanchez, SPI Public Works Director, provided a report on fleet maintenance for the City. The report stated, “Creating a tailored program for SPI’s unique corrosive environment is critical to sound financial planning and operational efficiency.” Sanchez emphasized that all their existing vehicles found in normal to excellent condition will be undercoated to prevent corrosion. Additionally, all new vehicles will be undercoated and will follow a preventative maintenance program.

Shoreline Management Director Brandon Hill provided Council with a report on the survey results of the City’s Shoreline Master Plan.

By KEVIN RICH


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South Padre Island birding center offers summer nature camp

It’s not all games on South Padre Island, but sometimes even learning can be fun.

The South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is offering its second year of Coastal Nature Camp for kids 7 through 12 from June 25-28.

The four-day camp has four-hour daily sessions from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to learn about coastal ecology, habitat, animal and plant species and more.

“The first day, we look at habitat, ecology, testing of water quality in both freshwater and saltwater, so they get a feel for what the habitats are and see how it works,” said Javier Gonzalez, naturalist educator at the birding and nature center who will lead the classes.

The second day will be the study of animals in both the freshwater and saltwater habitats at the SPI birding and nature center. One day will be spent studying the birds in the habitat and another day will focus on insects and fish along with mammals and reptiles.

Gonzalez said the four hours each day will be a hands-on experience for participants who will spend most of it out in the field.

“By the end of the camp they get a pretty full knowledge of what’s out there,” Gonzalez said. “We did it last year, too, and it was a lot of fun.”

Cost of the camp is $100 per camper with a 10-child class limit.

Registration is available at the birding and nature center’s website at www.spibirding.com

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


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Sculptures making a return after Spring Break destruction

The temperature was hot but it didn’t stop Max from shoveling sand and tossing it scoop by scoop up to Andy.

The two were just beginning to rebuild the 16-foot sand sculptures that once depicted Game of Thrones and Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway. The sculptures were destroyed by unruly Spring Breakers last March.

Drenched in sweat they continued to work.

Sandcastle Lessons Instructor Andy Hancock, a local American sand sculpture champion, and Max Hovorka have promised to rebuild them even better than before.

“The castle will be bigger than the last one,” Hancock said. “The design will come from different castle architecture from around the world.”

But it’s not going to be easy.

Hancock and Sandy Feet, another prominent sandcastle sculpture artist, spent more than 500 hours working on the original designs prior to Spring Break.

Now they will be working together to have the custom sandcastles finished by July.

The two of them and their assistants have been working in 90 degree heat for five to six hours at a time.

At a recent city meeting Island leaders approved insurance proceeds associated with damages to the sand castle structure located at 610 Padre Boulevard in the amount of $24,750 to be utilized for renovation and repair.

“I’m very pleased that we were able to collect on insurance and come up with the funds to get the sandcastles rebuilt,” Mayor Dennis Stahl said. “The sandcastles are iconic, and a real visitor draw.”

He said it’s great that this work will be done in time for visitors to enjoy during their peak season.

 

HOW WE GOT HERE

 

On a Friday in March at 1:40 a.m., four male subjects vandalized the sandcastle in front of the VisitorsCenter, causing major damage.

They were never formally brought to justice.

The estimated cost of the damage was $24,000.

The vandalism to the sandcastles happened on two separate nights, just days after the artists finished replacing the old sand sculptures that had stood for five years.

South Padre Island officials said it was the first time any sand sculptures had been damaged during Spring Break.

The South Padre Island Visitors Center put up a $500 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Island officials confirmed there are suspects but no arrests have been made or rewards handed out to find the individuals responsible for the damages.

“We are very happy to be doing this for the visitors,” Hancock said about rebuilding the sand castles. “It was disappointing and frustrating to find them destroyed, but we’re going to get them back.”

By RAUL GARCIA Staff Writer


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SPI building chest for skate park

The Padre Island Brewing Company donated 25 cents from every pint they sold on Cinco de Mayo to help raise cash for the Island skate park fund.

At the same time a GoFundMe account also dedicated for raising money to build the park was accepting funds from the public.

Over the past three months, $7,070 has been made on GoFundMe alone for the project.

But the goal is to raise $40,000 to build a skate park with a half pipe, bowl, ramps and more.

To do that the SK8 SPI committee members have been grinding at bringing in the money needed for the park with fundraisers and drawing local community support.

Their next move is applying for a $25,000 grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation to help finish the project.

The committee plans to submit their proposal to the foundation this week.

“We want to see the SPI Skate Park at Tompkins Park become a reality,” said Rob Nixon, a SK8 SPI committee member.

He said for close to 10 years now Island leaders have been planning to build a skate park to enhance the Island community for residents and visitors.

The SPI Economic Development Council has given $100,000 toward this project since 2017. Some of those funds were used for an engineering study and potential skate park designs.

Those design plans came back over budget when it was time for the council to decide on the plans during an April meeting. The council agreed to send the project back to committee to take more time to come up with funding for the park.

“I know a lot of people are skeptical but we can and will get this done,” Nixon said. “We are so close but we need the support from our community to make this happen.

By Raul Garcia, Staff writer


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Isla Blanca boat ramp is now open

he Isla Blanca Park amphitheater isn’t finished, but the popular boat ramp with extra parking adjacent to the construction site is open and ready for holiday launches.

The boat ramp parking area was brought in a week ahead of initial projections and is part of the $6.5 million overhaul of Isla Blanca that adds the amphitheater and a multi-purpose building.

“We did an overlay on the boat ramp parking area and also on the areas where we have RV sites, the nine partial-hookup RV sites,” Joe E. Vega, county parks director, said yesterday. “We re-striped everything and we maximized the parking area for whenever we have events.

“We have 28 spaces for trucks with boat trailers,” he added. “For single vehicles, at the boat ramp area, there are going to be 22 single vehicles spaces and that’s an increase in that area.”

Isla Blanca Park, with its mile-long beach, fishing jetty, pavilions and more than 600 RV sites, attracts more than a million visitors a year. Construction is continuing in the area and Vega urges those using the boat ramp and parking lot to exercise caution.

“People are not allowed to go inside the fencing area, it’s fenced and it’s secured,” Vega said. “We just ask people to be very careful and to take safety precautions when they’re going into the area where the construction is continuing.”

Vega said the additional nine RV spots will be partial hookups and will be ready by June and July.

The 4,000-seat amphitheater and multi-purpose building will be located just to the east of the current boat launching site, with the amphitheater right on the water overlooking Brazos Santiago Pass.

Officials have said the multi-purpose building will be available for special events including weddings, meetings and conferences, and the amphitheater would host concerts and other events, and also will be used to view SpaceX space launches from Boca Chica Beach.

Funding for the Isla Blanca renovations was raised via the hotel-motel venue tax, officials have said.

Isla Blanca Park facts

- Located on South Padre Island’s southern tip

- More than a mile of sandy beach

- Two beachfront pavilions

- Food and rental concessions

- Walking trail and shaded picnic areas

- Daily vehicle entrance fee is $10

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


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New reservation process at Isla Blanca RV park

Winter visitors to the Isla Blanca RV Park on South Padre Island will now have to follow a much different reservation method in order to get an RV space at the park.

For years, people who rented out RV spaces were able to reserve a spot for the upcoming season right after checking-in with their RV. Now, spots are renewed on a first-come, first-served basis.

"You stayed in the park, you could pay a deposit for the following season,” said Cameron County Parks and Recreation Director Joe Vega. “Now, it gives everybody an opportunity, an equal chance."

Rolando Flores is happy his family is finally able to get a spot for their RV at Isla Blanca RV Park on South Padre Island.

"We've lived […] all our lives in Cameron County and it was kind of an ‘if and when you can get a spot," Flores said.

Those wishing to have space for their recreational vehicle at Isla Blanca Park between October and December must make reservations starting this Sunday, June 10, at the park's office either in person or over the phone until spaces run out.

On June 16, the park will begin reservations for January through March.

Flores says people should come prepared— spaces are first-come, first-served.

By late August 2019, park officials say there will be even more amenities, including a new amphitheater and event center on Isla Blanca.

The event center and amphitheater will be able host concerts and large gatherings. The project was passed by a referendum vote in Cameron County for a total cost of $6.6 million using mostly venue taxes.

by CBS 4 News

Saturday, June 9th 2018


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Infusion of Cash Reef project for snapper receives major donation

RGV Reef, an artificial reefing project to dramatically increase red snapper and other fish populations off South Padre Island, has gotten a big boost of its own from a major pipeline company.

At a May 31 ceremony at the Hilton Garden Inn on the Island, Friends of RGV Reef and the Texas A&M University Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies were presented with a $350,000 donation from Valley Crossing Pipeline LLC, a subsidiary of Enbridge Inc., which is nearing completion of a $1.5 billion natural gas pipeline running through the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Cameron County Precinct 1 Commissioner Sofia Benavides, who was among the many elected officials and local leaders attending the ceremony, was responsible for getting the two sides together.

“When Valley Crossing first came, probably about 18 months ago, they wanted me to know about what they were doing in the area, and also they were looking to give back to the community,” she said.

One day, VCP representatives happened to be in her office the same time as Friends of RGV Reef Vice President Daniel Bryant, Benavides said.

“It was perfect timing,” she said. “From then on we struck up a very good relationship, and this is the outcome.”

RGV Reef is 1,650 acres of self-sustaining, artificial reef composed of high, medium and low-relief elements designed to provide habitat for fish from the juvenile stage through adulthood. So far, it includes 4,000 tons of concrete materials of various sizes and two sunken vessels. The reef is located eight nautical miles off the coast and 14 nautical miles north of the Brazos Santiago Pass jetties.

By STEVE CLARK | Staff Writer


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STAR Tournament 2018

 - $1 million in prizes are being offered during the 29th annual Coastal Conservation Association State of Texas Anglers Rodeo or STAR Tournament that runs from May 26 thru September 3.

60 tagged redfish were recently released statewide, and nine of the prize reds were turned loose right here in the Lower Laguna Madre.
 
Dylan Sassman, Assistant Director CCA STAR Tournament says, "On these redfish the first five winners will each receive a brand new Ford F-150, towing a 23-foot Haynie Bigfoot, Mercury motor on the back and a coastline trailer. The next five winners will have to provide their own truck, but I think pretty much anybody can find a buddy to tow home their new prize boat and take them fishing a couple of times a year."
 
In addition to the chance of catching a tagged redfish and winning a truck, boat, motor and trailer worth $85,000, there are also prizes and scholarships for the largest trout, flounder and many other bay and offshore species.
 
Sassman, "Last year, the past year we had 19 total tagged redfish caught with only nine claiming prizes because they weren't entered. Get entered, get your fishing insurance or like I said you will be eating $85,000 filets."

If you would like to register for this year's tournament then all Academy stores can help you out or go to www.startournament.org

Sassman, "We are about to put about $85,000 in the water. Just one little fish…Got to get entered and sign up for STAR.  Get your CCA membership for $35 and your STAR entry for $25 and turn one of these little redfish, that little bitty red tag coming out the back into $85,000 worth of truck and boat." 


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Council updated on Second Causeway, airport expansion

Presentations on Brownsville-South Padre Island Airport expansion, the Second Causeway project, and the Master Thoroughfare Plan highlighted the SPI City Council meeting of Wednesday, May 16.

Council heard an update on the Second Causeway presented by Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority (CCRMA) Executive Director Pete Sepulveda. He stated that since his last visit before City Council back in October, they have done some changes at the staff level to try and complete the final phase involving the environmental documents.

Reviewing the history of the project, Sepulveda explained that the CCRMA took over the project about eight years ago from TxDOT. “Originally TxDOT, the Texas Department of Transportation, was developing the project, and then they got to a standstill and advised the County Judge at that time that they would no longer develop the project,” he said. “The only caveat was that we would have to get a loan from TxDOT in order to develop the environmental traits of the document.”

Sepulveda emphasized that they have submitted a draft environmental impact statement and have revised it once to address comments from the Federal agencies reviewing the document. “After I was here the last time, we made a recommendation to the Board. We felt that we needed to change the direction that we were going in with the consultant we had at that time,” he announced, adding that a new firm was selected to help close out this phase of the project.

By KEVIN RICH
 


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