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SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — People interested in taking on a hobby and showcasing their gardening talents to the community will soon be able to.

Parks and Keep SPI Beautiful Committee members are seeking participants for its Community Garden Pilot Program.

Four participants will be assigned a box in the Butterfly Garden on Gulf Boulevard next door to the Suntide II Condominiums.

Gardening supplies such as boxes, soil and water source will be provided.

The pilot program will run from August to January 2020 and will be evaluated by the board committee.

According to Parks and Recreation Manager Debbie Huffman, the goal of the program is to bring the community together to share friendship and their love for gardening.

Interested participants must submit their names via email at dhuffman@myspi.org or call Huffman at (956) 761-8168 by Monday, Aug. 19.

“We would like as many people as possible to participate,” Huffman said. “Space is limited, but we are looking to expand the program depending on interest.”

The Parks and Keep SPI Beautiful Committee will assign plots Wednesday, Aug. 21, during a committee meeting.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

• The Parks and Keep SPI Beautiful Committee will launch a Community Garden Pilot Program and is looking for participants.

• Interested participants must submit their names via email at dhuffman@myspi.org or call Debbie Huffman at (956) 761-8168 by Monday, Aug. 19.

• The Parks and Keep SPI Beautiful Committee will assign plots Wednesday, Aug. 21 during a committee meeting.

Alana Hernandez


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Going up: New airport terminal starting to take shape

The Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport should have its sleek new terminal building by the end of the fourth quarter of 2020, according to airport director Bryant Walker.

Airport ground traffic is being rerouted around what used to be the parking in front of the existing terminal and is now the spot from which the bones of the 91,000-square-foot, $43.8 million, electrochromic, glass-walled structure are rising.

The old terminal, built in the early 1970s and later expanded, is nonetheless cramped and obsolete, incapable of handling a sufficient number of passengers or aircraft, Walker said.

The project remains on budget and on schedule since breaking ground in December 2016, he said. All the pilings have been poured. Precipitation has been an issue for no more than 10 days, though rain days are built into the construction schedule, Walker said, adding that the contractor has requested no additional rain days so far. Other delays to date have been minor, he said.

“We did have some materials conditions,” Walker said. “We found some soft spots in the dirt when we were backfilling the foundation. We had to dig a little deeper than we were hoping to in order to fix that problem. You expect to run into things like that.”

Once the new terminal is open, the existing one will be demolished and its former footprint turned into ramp space for aircraft parking, though no demolition contract has been awarded yet, he said. Walker said the old terminal should be gone, all evidence of its existence erased and everything looking complete in the first quarter of 2021.

The $43.8 million is for the terminal building and “land-side” part of the project (as opposed to the air-side segment, between the new terminal and runways), he said. Construction of the terminal and land-side is being paid for through a combination of certificate-of-obligation bonds and Federal Aviation Administration funds.

The FAA is also paying for the air-side elements, including demolition of the old terminal. Walker estimated the air-side cost at around $8 million but said no firm figure is available yet. The jet bridges that will connect the terminal to aircraft will be paid for through Passenger Facility Charges, a fee that’s part of the cost of every plane ticket, he said.

“It’s a mechanism airports use for funding certain capital improvement projects,” Walker said.

Because bids for the terminal project came in higher than expected, some design features were left out of the original plan, he said. Contracts for some landscaping, for example, have yet to be awarded, Walker said. At the same time, the city is stepping up “to include some elements that would make more sense and be more cost effective to include now rather than later,” he said.

The city plans to install lighting along the airport entrance, for instance, Walker said.

“Being held so strictly to the budget, we were very good at designing a functional terminal,” he said. “It did not have elements that might be considered extraordinary or extravagant. Adding these elements in is not making it something extraordinary, but they’re things that are very nice to have. Lighting on the roadway is not required, but it’s a good thing to have.”

STEVE CLARK STAFF WRITER


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McNulty: New MPO can hasten arrival of second SPI causeway

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, RGV – The incoming mayor of South Padre Island has praised RGV leaders for setting up a regional metropolitan planning organization, pointing out that this could hasten the arrival of a second causeway to his city.

In his first major interview since winning the SPI mayoral runoff election, Patrick McNulty said he is looking forward to millions of additional dollars becoming available for the second causeway project.

Tens of hundreds of millions of additional transportation dollars are likely to come to the Valley now that the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board has been formed. 

Patrick McNulty

A second causeway for SPI is deemed a major regional project because it would include the Outer Parkway connector from the causeway to Harlingen and the expansion of FM 1925 from Harlingen to Monte Cristo Road in Edinburg. 

“I think it is great that Cameron and Hidalgo counties and all the municipal entities have agreed to work together to form the one MPO,” McNulty told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“I think it is an excellent opportunity to grow our transportation infrastructure substantially quicker. There is no doubt we have been held back in the past. I look forward to South Padre Island having an opportunity to join the MPO, along with the other tri-cities.

The tri-cities McNulty was referring to are South Padre Island, Laguna Vista and Port Isabel.

“The new MPO is going to give us an excellent opportunity to push for a second causeway for South Padre Island. The second causeway will be desperately needed, if it is not already, as our tourism opportunities continue to grow. We have to focus on our tourism and let that sector grow.”

Asked if he was aware that the Valley is set to secure far more transportation dollars as a result of the merger of Hidalgo County MPO, Brownsville MPO, and Harlingen-San Benito MPO, McNulty answered affirmatively.

“Mayor (Dennis) Stahl has kept us informed. He has played a very active role in the background, encouraging the regional MPO to be created. I know Harlingen has been working on it for a long time. This has been a long time in the making and it is great that the municipalities and the counties have come together for the benefit of the whole Rio Grande Valley. The MPO will be the catalyst for incredible economic opportunities.”

Asked if he was aware that a second causeway to SPI was being touted as one of the new MPO’s top regional projects, McNulty also answered affirmatively.

McNulty handily won the SPI mayoral runoff election on Saturday. 

Chairman Parker’s Perspective

One of the Valley leaders who wants to see a second causeway at or near the top of the new MPO’s list of regional projects is Frank Parker, Jr., chairman of Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority. 

Parker was in attendance in Austin when Gov. Greg Abbott signed the documents to set up the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board. He was also at the very first meeting of the new MPO in Weslaco the week before last. Cameron County RMA will have a seat on the MPO and Parker has been designated as its representative.

Frank Parker, Jr.

We have been looking forward to this for a couple of years. We have long needed a regional approach. I have businesses in both counties. I have always been a regional person,” Parker said, immediately after the first RGVMPO meeting had ended

“I am glad we are working together more and maybe it will bring some big economic development projects to our region, such as, businesses or car factories. If we get the airports in here maybe we can start designations a regional air freight airport. Let’s get going.”

Parker said his understanding is that the RGVMPO will have up to 16 percent of the 80 percent of discretionary transportation dollars that TXDOT makes available for the largest MPOs in the state. Before the merger of the Valley’s three legacy MPOs, the region was stuck in the pool of MPOs that had only 20 percent of the discretionary transportation dollars to work with.  

“We can get up to 16 percent of the 80 percent but that is going to be dependent on us having our projects ready to go. If we do not have them engineered and ready to go, the money is going to go to Dallas or Houston. It is going to be millions and millions of dollars,” Parker said. 

Pete Sepulveda, Jr., was also at the first RGVMPO meeting. Sepulveda is executive director of Cameron County RMA. 

“Under a new MPO we could get close to a billion (dollars) over a ten year period from the UTP,” Sepulveda said. 

UTP stands for the Unified Transportation Plan. TxDOT could decide how many additional dollars will be allocated to the UTP this summer.

“Because of the additional dollars, I am already pushing for the Outer Parkway and the Second Causeway. These project will be a pretty big chunk of that (billion dollars),” Parker said.

“We want to make it a super regional project or something so it gets funded separately from the regular budget. Of course, I am selfish, I have a condo there (on SPI) but a lot of people in McAllen do also. And we want to make it non-tolled. I look forward to serving on this board.”

Chairman Deanda’s Perspective

S. David Deanda, Jr., chairman of Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority was also at the first meeting of RGVMPO.

“We are so excited (about the creation of the new MPO). We think it will be a big benefit to the Valley,” Deanda said. “We have worked super hard on this project for the last two years at the direction of the governor and we have really made progress in building one united Rio Grande Valley MPO. I am excited about the opportunities for all of us.”

Asked how much more funding he thought the new MPO could draw down, Deanda said: “There is going to be a significant amount of funding. I cannot give you the amount yet. We should be able to access part of the top 80 percent of discretionary dollars. The top five MPOs get 80 percent of the distribution and the remainder get 20 percent. You should see a significant influx of dollars to the Rio Grande Valley.”

Deanda added: “This is historic. This is showing the Valley is becoming united and doing the right things for the people of the Rio Grande Valley and I am just excited to be a part of it.”

Steve Taylor


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McNulty wins Island mayoral runoff

Patrick McNulty defeated Darla Jones yesterday in the runoff election to fill former Mayor Dennis Stahl’s unexpired term.

McNulty, a real estate broker and construction company owner, received 488 votes to Jones’ 388.

“I am honored to be elected mayor of the city with the best beach in Texas,” McNulty said.

“I am looking forward to working with this council to make South Padre Island the best it can be.”

McNulty said the election had “many great discussions regarding the future of South Padre” and that Jones “ran a good campaign.”

“I’m completely proud of the campaign that I ran and I wouldn’t change a thing I did,” Jones said.

“I wish Patrick McNulty the best.”

McNulty said he is “very proud of his supporters.”

“They have all worked countless hours over the past four months,” he said.

“This has been an intense election and they all deserve a huge thank you.”

In the special election held May 4, McNulty received 285 votes and former Island assistant city manager Jones drew 417.

Business owner Clayton Brashear received 244 votes and fell short of the runoff.

The runoff election was ordered because none of the candidates received 50 percent of the vote.

Canvassing of the election results will be conducted July 10 at 3 p.m. during a special called City Council meeting at City Hall, 4601 Padre Blvd., according to South Padre Island Public Information Officer Nikki Soto.

Alana Hernandez
 
 


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Advocate aims to open micro-hospital on the Island

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Could a mini-hospital be in route to the Island?

During an Economic Development Board (EDC) meeting held earlier this week, SPI EMS Medical Director Dr. Richard Joe Ybarra announced the results of a Hospital Feasibility Study conducted for the Island.

Ibarra said the project is going to need funding and planning, but the study determined the Island could sustain a micro-hospital, which is comprised of an emergency room with a few hospital beds.

“The feasibility study shows positive results and now we just need to execute the details,” Ibarra said. “And in the meantime, build something where we can provide our visitors and our citizens with healthcare.”

According to Ibarra, the smallest micro-hospital would cost about $10 million.

Ibarra said in prior years he “unsuccessfully tried” to bring healthcare to the Island through various independent projects.

However, he believes his latest project will be successful if the city becomes a partner.

“Unfortunately, those projects didn’t succeed,” Ibarra said. “And as I analyzed why they didn’t, it’s because we didn’t form a partnership with the city.”

During the meeting, EDC Board Directors expressed their interest in Ybarra’s project.

“As you can tell, certainly we’re behind this and I think it’s something the Island definitely needs,” said Mickey Furcron. “So, we certainly want to support that.”

Ibarra said he plans to partner with other entities such as the Harlingen Medical Center and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Harlingen Medical Center CEO Matt Wolthoff said he appreciates Ibarra’s passion and commitment to bringing healthcare to the Island.

“We are interested in partnering in that endeavor and whatever that looks like in the future, we’d like to play a role in that,” he said. “We feel right now urgent care is probably the best starting point for the Island and we can certainly look at growing it from there.”

Alana Hernandez


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Early votes in, Election Day June 29

After months of campaigning, meet and greets, forums, and local political discourse, the South Padre Island mayor election, now a runoff, will come to a close with Election Day this Saturday, June 29. Some eager voters, however, have already casted their early ballots this week as the window to do so also concluded.

According to SPI City Secretary Susan Manning, a total of 557 voters cast their ballots during the early voting period. As of press time last week, only 274 voters had done so.

Manning also stated via email that an additional 87 ballots were mailed out, and 72 have been returned and casted thus far.

Election Day will be held on Saturday, June 29 with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at City Hall, 4601 Padre Blvd.

The two candidates who have been running for the position since May are former assistant city manager Darla Jones and Planning and Zoning Chairman, as well as business owner, Patrick McNulty.

For scope, SPI Mayor Dennis Stahl announced his departure back in February, deeming a special election necessary. On that ballot were the two aforementioned candidates as well as business owner Clayton Brashear.

That May election came and went with 950 total ballots casted. Jones received 417 votes; McNulty received 285, and Brashear 244. Brashear lost that special election, and when no candidate earned a 50 percent plus one of the votes, the runoff election between Jones and McNulty ensued.

Jones will be hosting an Election Day watch party at Padre Island Brewing Co. that evening and McNulty will be hosting his at F&B SPI.

By FREDDY JIMENEZ


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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott approves RGV MPO

This article originally appeared in the Friday June 21, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

In a move that local officials say will boost the economy and strengthen transportation in the region, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a redesignation agreement to merge the three Valley Metropolitan Planning Organizations.

Abbott signed the merger agreement Friday, June 14 at an event attended by various Rio Grande Valley leaders such as Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Representatives Bobby Guerra and Terry Canales.

"Thanks to the hard work of many leaders and stakeholders here today, we are ushering in a new era of economic development and collaboration for the Rio Grande Valley," Abbott said at the signing ceremony. "This region plays such an important role in growing the Texas economy and strengthening our international trade partnerships. I look forward to the tremendous new opportunities this agreement will create for the people of the Rio Grande Valley."

A metropolitan planning organization is a local decision-making body that is responsible for overseeing the metropolitan transportation planning process. Federal law requires an MPO for each urbanized area with a population of more than 50,000 people.

Prior to this agreement, the Rio Grande Valley was home to three separate MPOs — Brownsville, Harlingen-San Benito, and Hidalgo County. The RGV MPO agreement will merge all three MPOs into one, encouraging economic development and strengthening transportation systems throughout the region. The agreement will also improve the Rio Grande Valley's ability to compete for greater funding opportunities for infrastructure projects.

With this agreement, the incoming Rio Grande Valley MPO will be able to compete with Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio for funds from the Texas Department of Transportation.

“We were fighting for the same cheese when it's better to get a bigger piece of it,” Pharr Mayor and Hidalgo County MPO Chairman Ambrosio Hernandez previously said. “It was time for us to work as a region to mobilize our resources together more effectively, maybe get bigger amount of funds for our region to cover all aspects of our needs. And what better way to do it...then doing it together rather than doing it in pieces.”

The merger had been in the works for years, Hernandez said.

According to Hernandez, 80 percent of MPO funds are distributed to the MPO’s for the areas of Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio due to their population size. Once the merger is finalized, the RGV MPO will be able to receive a portion of that 80 percent.

The goal is to have the new MPO set up by before the start of the upcoming fiscal year, Hernandez said. He added that the new MPO board will have 13 members representing the cities of Pharr, Mission, Edinburg, McAllen, Brownsville, Harlingen and San Benito, along with Hidalgo and Cameron County, for a combined 31 votes.

With this merger, Hernandez said potential future projects that could happen due to the increase in funding include the construction of a second causeway to South Padre Island and a highway loop that connects all of Hidalgo County.

“Our South Texas region will now have access to millions in funding for transportation infrastructure projects, which will lead to better economic opportunities for our entire region to enjoy,” Hernandez said in a statement.

 Written by Jose de Leon III


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CAF Airshow to soar at new location this weekend

The Commemorative Air Force Rio Grande Valley Wing AIRSHOW! takes off this weekend, and this year it’s at a new location.

The CAF AIRSHOW! will happen at the Port Isabel-Cameron County Airport, at 27517 Buena Vista Blvd. in Los Fresnos.

David Hughston, commander for the CAF RGV, said an advantage of having the air show at its new location “is that we don’t have to deal with the tower,” as they did at the old location at the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport.

Hughston, a veteran pilot, will fly his Stearman, a 1947 PT (Personal Trainer) biplane used for military training, during the show.

Among the reenactments that the pilots will be performing at the AIRSHOW! is the pyrotechnic display featured in the “Tora! Tora! Tora!” segment where four replicas of Japanese fighters and torpedo planes have a starring role.

Two Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt “Warthogs,” based in Florida, are modern military aircraft and will take to the skies for simulated bombing runs.

“During AIRSHOW! there will be as many as 10 planes in the sky at once,” Hughston said. “These new ‘birds’ are always a hit with the crowd.”

The hangar also stores flyable WWII aircraft, such as the rare German Focke-Wulf 44 Stieglitz biplane and the American Stearman (Boeing) PT-13 biplane.

Advance tickets are available online at www.rgvcaf.org for $12. There is no admission cost for children under 12.

On the days of the event, tickets are $15 per person and each ticket is good for one adult, one day only.

Parking is available for $5 and begins at 9 a.m. with plenty of time to visit the on-site trade show and admire the vintage airplanes.

Flying begins at noon and will last approximately three hours.

Advance general admission “Flightline” tickets, an upgrade that includes a tent with chairs, refreshments available for purchase, and a porta-potty area under the tent, are available for $22. These tickets are available for purchase until noon on the day of the show. Each ticket is good for one adult, one day only. Children under 12 are free with adult; $5 per child entry to the Flightline Club.

VIP tickets are $150. Entry into Airshow 2019 VIP tent includes: private, covered, front-row seating, a catered lunch and snacks, as well as bottled water, sodas, juice and beer. Private parking is located directly behind VIP tent. Group rates are available.

Hughston said a special B-25 bomber flight is available for $300 per person for a group of five.

The CAF RGV Wing’s dream is to build a 5,000 to 6,000-square-foot museum adjacent to the airport, as well as additional buildings for offices and meeting rooms.

Advance tickets are also available at the following locations:

>> SPI Chamber of Commerce (inside the SPI Convention Centre);

>> Water’s Edge Gallery on SPI;

>> Hughston Insurance Agency, Brownsville;

>> Brownsville Convention & Visitor’s Bureau;

>> Mail-Pak-Your-Box Store, McAllen;

For more information, call (956) 454-4439.

sgroves@brownsvilleherald.com


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A call for artists: SPI Art Business Program seeking applicants

Local artists with the desire to own and operate their own art business may soon be able to.

The South Padre Island Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is seeking applicants for its new Art Business Incubator (ABI) program.

Artists accepted into the program will receive several benefits, including free studio space, an initial supplies stipend of $1,000, a monthly stipend of $200 and gallery display space to be located in a Padre Boulevard storefront.

The application is open to all 2-D and 3-D artists, including painting, sculpture, photography, film jewelry making, fabric art, graphic design and technology-based art.

Eligible applicants must possess experience in creating and marketing their art or educational experience such as a master’s degree or Master of Fine Arts.

SELECTION PROCESS

Selected semi-finalists will be notified and scheduled for an interview with a panel of judges within a week of being notified.

Finalists for the ABI Training program will begin a Kauffman Fast Trac Entrepreneurial Training.

Following the training, finalists will have two months to create a business plan that will be evaluated by Kauffman business trainers.

Selected applicants will begin a 12-month residency in the ABI program.

THE PURPOSE

According to ABI Program Director Alexa Ray, the program serves as a tourism product that is not seasonal or weather dependent, which could help attract people with the ability and resources to travel year-round.

“The SPI economy will benefit from the boost that art and culture tourism provides as a result of the program and its emerging art business entrepreneurs,” Ray said. “And an added bonus of having a thriving artsrelated business community in the city is it enhances the quality of life for residents through shared creative experiences.”

To apply to the Art Business Incubator program, visit https:// tinyurl.com/y2nf2u4t.

BY ALANA HERNANDEZ, Staff writer


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Mobichairs giving those with special needs access to beach this summer

South Padre Island is taking steps to make sure everyone has access to the waves this summer with unique chairs for people with special needs.

They are amphibious wheelchairs that not only gives those with special needs access to the beach, but also a chance to get in the water

"It does float in a little bit of water, you know you don't want to go to deep with it,” said Captain Jim Pigg of South Padre Island Fire Dept. Beach Patrol. “But you just get in the chair, push it out to the beach and have a good time."

Starting with six, the Mobichairs made their first debut on the island several years ago.

Since then, they've been able to add more.

"City council approved it and got a partnership with GLO and found the money in the funding to go forward with it and now we have about eight chairs that we're able to utilize,” Pigg said.

While Mobichairs cost about $1,600 a piece, they are of no charge to anyone who needs them.

Pigg said they're used almost daily and although they have capabilities of handling more Mobichairs, it's finding room to store them that becomes an issue.

"We come into the problem of the space and how much space to keep them,” Pigg said. “They're a very large chair so space becomes an issue."

The availability of the Mobichairs are typically on a first come, first serve basis, but here are times where they are reserved based on special circumstances.

In addition, you can use the Mobichairs for as long as you need them.

If you're looking to use a Mobichair, stop by the third floor of the South Padre Island Fire Dept.

You will need to provide your driver's license, where you are staying, your license plate number and phone number.

For more information, call 956-761-3040.

by Jolanie Martinez, CBS 4 News


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