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Island takes action on shoreline projects

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — As 2019 nears its end, a city committee is making preparations for the new year.

During a committee meeting held Dec. 10, the City of South Padre Island Shoreline Task Force took action on a few items regarding portable restrooms, native plants and a pilot program.

Portable restrooms

Shoreline Task Force Committee members and city council, voted to renew its contract with A Clean Portoco for the rental of 20 ADA portable restroom units at 11 beach accesses.

“Our survey said people are using the restrooms,” Mayor Patrick McNulty said during a city council meeting held Dec. 11. “They appreciate the restrooms and all of the customer service — and tourist friendly so I think that we can invest.”

The contract was first put in place in January of 2019.

The total cost of the temporary facilities cost close to $13,842 per month.

According to Shoreline Department personnel, the creation of the pilot program stemmed from the community’s request for more access to restrooms while at the beach.

In total, the city currently has brick and mortar restroom facilities at two beach accesses — Treasure Island Beach Access #11 and Gulf Circle Beach Access #3.

Boburka said the ultimate goal the city will look at is making sure there are more brick and mortar restrooms at beach accesses.

Planting

In October, the Shoreline Department was awarded a $1,500 grant from the Texas Urban Forestry Council to help improve the Island’s bay endings by adding plants.

According to Rolling Grants and Special Projects Administrator Erika Hughston, a big focus for the grant is adding community work and having the ability to access urban forest areas within communities.

During the committee meeting, members voted to place native plants such as Black Mangroves, Padre Island Mistflowers and Seaside Goldenrods in bay areas near these locations — Cora Lee Drive and Dr. Joseph and Jeanne K. Lis Memorial Park on West Esperanza Street.

Hughston explained to the committee members that those native plants are great for bird and butterfly migration.

According to Hughston, the project will take more effect toward the spring because winter is not a good time for planting.

Borrow bins

Rakes, shovels and other beach toys are items often found left behind on the beach.

During the meeting held Dec. 10, Shoreline Task Force committee member Abbie Mahan proposed a “borrow bin” program, which aims to combat the issue.

The idea of the pilot program is to place bins with toys at some beach accesses so beachgoers can borrow and return them.

“A lot of times, they’ll leave it on the beach thinking other kids are going to pick them up and play with them,” Mahan said. “They get washed out to sea and it finds its way back to our beaches, in our turtles and wherever else it doesn’t belong.”

Mahan said the program would start small with five bins.

“I really do think it’s something that if we go overboard and throw a ton of toys out there, we could see an influx of them on our beach,” she said.

Committee members voted to proceed with a plan to receive an estimate for the pilot program.

“Hopefully it’s successful and everybody is asking for more at more beach access points and that’d be great,” Mahan said.

They plan to discuss which beach accesses they will place the five bins during their next committee meeting.

By ALANA HERNANDEZ Staff Writer


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BOAT PARADE LIGHTS UP THE BAY

Thousands of spectators lined the shoreline of the Laguna Madre Bay Saturday evening to enjoy the annual  South Padre Island Lighted Boat Parade.

     A phalanx of vessels departed from Southmost Marina in Port Isabel at 6pm, crossed under the Queen Isabella Causeway, then cruised along the waterline from Palm Street to Jim’s Pier in the entertainment district. Every available parking space on the bayside was filled as parade goers looked for viewing spots to see the brightly lit, cheerfully decorated holiday boats. 

     Restaurants and bars were packed with customers, the brisk business being welcomed by merchants during what is usually a slow time of the year. Claudia Hernandez, her husband and 3 children were one of the many families who travelled to the Island to witness the floating parade.

     “We live up in McAllen and have always wanted to come to this boat parade, but this is the first time we finally made it down to the Island to see it,” Hernandez said, while her middle child, Araceli, exclaimed “I wanna see Santa!” eliciting chuckles from her family. Claudia’s husband, Rosendo, commented, saying “This is a beautiful display on the bay, the colored lights reflecting on the water are incredible.”

Photo by Pamela Cody.

     This was the 31st year of the parade, making it one of the most popular and long standing traditions on South Padre Island. Boats of all sizes were in the procession, from small personal watercraft to large commercial vessels. Designs were whimsical and varied, from the Grinch and Santa to frolicking dolphins, reindeer, snowmen and candy canes. 

     Winter Texans Bob and Phyllis Mullins, visiting from Kenosha, Wisconsin, were witnessing their first Island boat parade. Phyllis reflected on the spirit of the season, noting “Seeing the whole community come out and get into the holiday spirit, it really makes it feel like Christmas. Small town celebrations are the best, this is what it’s about – families together, kids, Santa, and all the magic of the Christmas season.”

     There were 3 categories of boat sizes for the judge’s consideration. In the small/medium category, Tritoon Charters took first place, followed by Having Faith and We Fish You a Merry Christmas in second and third; in the large boat division, Daddy’s Hands took top honors, with Tula and Noemi II coming in second and third; in the commercial category, Breakaway Tours captured the top prize, with second and third going to Murphy’s Law and Ka Motion. 

-Pamela Cody


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SPI CHRISTMAS PARADE ROLLS OUT HOLIDAY CHEER

 With over 60 entries, the annual South Padre Island Christmas Parade delighted onlookers once again, as proud parents, residents and visitors lined the parade route to enjoy the festivities.

     Beginning at Mars Street and finishing at the judge’s station located at the Padre Island Brewing Company, a variety of floats, marching bands, dance troupes, and decorated vehicles made their way down Padre Boulevard last Friday evening. Parade goers brought chairs, coolers, and even pets, securing good viewing spots along the parade route to sit and enjoy holiday libations and the performances of the entrants. 

     SPI resident Adrian Hill was enjoying the balmy evening of the parade, and commented “It’s a celebration of the holidays down here, South Padre Island style. There is  great weather all year round so you don’t really get snow, so this is a good way to remind you it’s Christmas down here.”

     When asked what he hoped Santa would bring him for Christmas this year, Hill paused for a moment then said “I don’t really know, I have a lot of what I want now, but if anything it would probably be more car parts,” he said, laughing.

     There were a variety of participants in this year’s parade. Friends of Animal Rescue brought their adoptable dogs to walk the parade route, gymnasts cartwheeled and flipped, and precision marching and holiday music was offered  from the Port Isabel Marching Band, directed by Scott Hartsfield. 

     Frank Barroso from Port Isabel, Texas stood on the parade route, dressed in a Santa outfit. When asked what he enjoys about the parade, Barroso answered “The joy and laughter and kids,” adding “I brought my own candy, so I’m throwing it at ’em. I know they’re throwing at us, but I’m throwing it back!”

     As the paraders approached the reviewing stand, onlookers were treated to music and dance performances from kids of all ages, from tiny tots to high schoolers. Dressed in festive holiday costumes, the children gave their best efforts to delight the crowds with their well-practiced routines, demonstrating hours of hard work and preparation. 

     From the front seat of their golf cart, Cheryl Colebank and Michelle Thompson, winter Texans from Colorado and Canada respectively, viewed the festivities and performances of this year’s annual event. 

     “The parade is something we partake in every year,” said  Colebank, with Thompson chiming in, “It’s great to see the local people come out and put on a great parade.”

     Taking first place in the parade competition were the Port Isabel Junior High Silver Stars, winning the coveted $500 prize. Local nonprofit organization Friends of Animal Rescue took second place, taking home $300; garnering a third place win and a prize of $200 were the Port Isabel High School Silver Bells; and finishing out the category were the Port Isabel Marching Band and Gio-nastics, each winning honorable mentions and $100 prizes.

- Pamela Cody


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Trails tapped for U.S. bike route designation

Brownsville and Cameron County’s hike-and-bike trail network will be the first in Texas officially part of the U.S. Bicycle Route System if the Texas Department of Transportation’s application to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials is approved.

AASHTO, which coordinates state highway departments around the country, designates and catalogs USBRS routes. More than 14,000 miles have been officially designated as part of the system in 27 states and Washington D.C., connecting urban, suburban and rural areas. Many more routes are proposed around the country. USBRS will total 50,000 miles when complete.

Proposed routes include a north-south route connecting Brownsville with Dallas-Fort Worth and an east-west route linking El Paso to East Texas, though to date no URBRS routes have been designated in the state, according to Ramiro Gonzalez, the city’s director of government affairs, who gave a presentation on the URBRS application during the Dec. 10 city commission meeting.

“There’s no designated bike route system in Texas, and that’s really because no other region or city has really thought about it,” he said. “If this process is successful, Brownsville and Cameron County would be the first designated part of the bike route system in Texas.”

TxDOT tapped Brownsville and Cameron County because of work done on Caracara Trails, formerly the Active Transportation and Active Tourism Plan, a proposed 428-mile trail network connecting communities via more than 230 miles of multi-use trails, 78 miles of paddling trails and 120 miles of on-street USBRS route.

“The USBRS is actually the easiest part of this plan in the sense that it takes the least amount of funding to put up a sign and designate something the ‘U.S. Bike Route System,’ “ Gonzalez said.

Combes to South Padre Island would be designated USBR 255. From Combes to Brownsville through Los Indios and Harlingen would be designated USBR 55. In Brownsville, the routes would follow F.M. 281 and S.H. 48. Gonzalez said signage is “nice but not required” and that the designation comes down to prestige.

“It doesn’t change anything,” he said. “It’s just a designation.”

The goal of Caracara Trails is to diversify tourism and contribute to the economy while linking communities and encouraging healthier lifestyles, Gonzalez said. His presentation cited the economic impact of trail systems elsewhere in the United States.

The Great Allegheny Passage between Maryland and Pennsylvania, for instance, generates $100 million in annual spending, while the Silver Comet Trail in Georgia generals $120 million a year and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail $1.8 million in annual spending by non-locals, Gonzalez said.

It’s estimated that Caracara Trails’ six “catalyst projects” would generate $70 million in annual spending, he said. Among them is the Bahia Grande Segment, which Gonzalez described as “perhaps the signature project” of Caracara Trails. The 18- to 20-mile-long segment would connect Brownsville via the Historic Battlefield Trail to Laguna Vista and the Bahia Grande Unit of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

“You can kind of start to think what kind of attraction this would be to tourism,” Gonzalez said.

In Laguna Vista, the Bahia Grande trail would terminate at the South Texas Eco-Tourism Center, a joint project of Laguna Vista and the county that has gone out to bid, he said. Another catalyst project is the Laguna Madre Segment, which would connect the county’s coastal and bayside communities with Laguna Atascosa and comprise part of USBR 55.

Gonzalez said the city is proud Caracara Trails was tapped for TxDOT’s first application for USBRS designation, which could be approved by June.

“I think that says a lot for the work that’s been put into this plan,” he said. “It’ll bring the vision, it’ll bring bicycle tourism, it’ll be a destination and it just puts us on the map.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com


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South Padre Island kicks off holiday events

On Friday, December 6, the City of South Padre Island welcomes the public as they kick off the holiday season with their Christmas Tree Lighting, at SPI City Hall from 5:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. After the Tree Lighting ceremony, the 31st Annual Christmas Parade will follow from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ]

The parade will travel on Padre Boulevard, starting from Mars Lane and ending at Kingfish Street. Debbie Huffman, Parks and Recreation manager for the City of South Padre Island, stated, “There are 58 entries this year. The judging will take place in front of the Padre Island Brewing Company. The prizes awarded will be 1st Place $500, 2nd Place $300, 3rd Place $200 and 2 finalist $100 each. We are honored to have Gabriella Garza and Michael Scott from KRGV Channel 5 as the emcees this year.” The City of South Padre Island Parks and Keep SPI Beautiful Committee organize the parade.

On Saturday, December 7, the annual Lighted Boat Parade will be held from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. There will be several designated viewing areas throughout the route. The route will start at South Point Marina in Port Isabel and judging will take place at The Painted Marlin Grille on South Padre Island. There will be a $500 cash prize for the top boat in each category. Other prizes include hotel night stays and gift cards from Island businesses.

By CONSTANCIO MARTINEZ, JR.


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Sea Turtle, Inc. to host annual Wassailing with the Turtles

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Visitors of this coastal city will soon be able to celebrate a few holiday festivities with its permanent sea turtle residents.

Sea Turtle, Inc. will host its free annual Wassailing with the Turtles get-together Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the facility’s Education Complex.

During the holiday event, guests will be able eat appetizers, drink wassail and sing Christmas carols to the non-releasable sea turtles at the facility.

“ We usually have this evening event to enjoy the sunset out on the bay and to sing to our sea turtle named Merry Christmas,” said Sanjuana Zavala, Sea Turtle, Inc.’s Marketing and Public Relations Officer. “A lot of members from the community always like to stop by to catch up and take some photos for the holidays.”

During the event, visitors will also be able to do some holiday shopping at the facility’s gift shop.

Attendees will receive a 10 percent discount if they bring an item on Friends of Animal Rescue’s Christmas wish list.

The nonprofit’s next Christmas event is scheduled for Dec. 14.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be available for pictures at the facility from 11 a.m. to noon.

Additionally, there will be a cookie decorating station for children.

The event is free with the purchase of admission.

Friends of Animal Rescue Christmas Wish List
• Kongs
• Litter
• Bully sticks
• Clothes dryer
• Cat scratchers
• Heavy duty leashes
• Plastic water pitchers
• Harnesses and collars

IF YOU GO
WHAT — Wassailing with the Turtles
WHEN — Thursday, Dec. 12 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
WHERE — Sea Turtle Inc. Education Complex, 6617 Padre Boulevard, South Padre Island
COST — Free

ahernandez@valleystar.com


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City of South Padre Island receives certificate for excellence in financial reporting

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (KGBT) — The City of South Padre Island has received a certificate for excellence in financial reporting.

According to a release, the Government Finance Officers Association announced the City of South Padre Island received the GFOA’s Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

We’re told the award represents a significant accomplishment and reflects the commitment of the City Council and staff to meeting the highest principals of financial reporting.

“The City of South Padre Island Finance Department is committed to achieve the highest levels of transparency and financial reporting,” stated Rodrigo Gimenez, Chief Financial Officer, in a press release. “Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the City's Finance department over the years, the City has achieved numerous awards and recognitions.”

The Government Finance Officers Association is a nonprofit professional association serving nearly 20,500 government finance professionals throughout North America, according to a release.


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SPI opens Holiday Sandcastle Village

As the holiday season continues to take shape, this coastal city has started to kick off its annual festivities that showcase the area.

The city of South Padre Island opened its free second annual Holiday Sandcastle Village this week, which will be open through Jan. 13.

Located in a 30 by 60 foot white tent near Louie’s Backyard and Gravity Park, the exhibit has an array of large sand sculptures such as a snowman, Santa’s Christmas throne and an angel.

In addition to its 12 holiday-themed sculptures, the exhibit features a lighted musical show that runs every day from dusk to 9 p.m.

“I’m really happy that it’s finished,” said Lucinda “Sandy Feet” Wierenga, owner of Sandy Feet Sandcastle Services. “We had a lot of fun working on it, but now I’m excited to be able to share it with the world.”

Also featured in the Holiday Sandcastle Village is a sculpture of the late Sea Turtle, Inc. founder Ila Fox Loetscher holding an Atlantic green sea turtle that she rescued on Christmas Eve in the late 1980s.

Named “Merry Christmas,” she is the only mature female sea turtle resident at the facility.

Due to genetic defects, she is non-releasable and has been a permanent resident of Sea Turtle, Inc. since she was rescued.

“Ila is gone, but we love her still,” Wierenga said. “So we decided why not have her and Merry Christmas be in our exhibit and display that part of the Island’s history.”

The large sand sculpture was created by artist Abe Waterman.

“Really one of his amazing talents is that he’s able to capture somebody’s personality, not just their features,” Wierenga said. “So I thought it would be a really good project for him.”

Starting right after Sandcastle Days held in early October, Wierenga, along with eight other sculptors began creating the Holiday Sandcastle Village.

“It works out really well that our Sandcastle Days contest is so late in the season that we’re able to get the sculptors to stay a little bit longer,” Wierenga said. “Since many of the sculptors live in places like Holland or Canada, where it’s already getting cold in October, they really don’t mind extending their stay here and putting on this project.”

Wierenga, along with other artists, created the Island’s first Holiday Sandcastle Village in 2018 near the SPI Convention Centre.

“It was a great location, but I think a lot of people didn’t know about it or might not have gotten to see it because of how far north it was,” she explained. “So, this year we decided to put it in the middle of town.”

“I’ve worked on projects like this all over the world,” Wierenga said. “So it’s really exciting for me to be able to show people my community and what I do.”

Alana Hernandez


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Island to launch annual Shop the Island event

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — From yoga studios and boutiques to salons and restaurants, a nationwide movement aims to illuminate the challenges and opportunities small business owners face.

Founded by American Express, Small Business Saturday was created in 2009 to inspire people to take notice and shop small to support their communities.

And stemming from this movement, a local coastal city designed their own way to celebrate Small Business Saturday.

In conjunction with Small Business Saturday, the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce will launch its ninth annual Shop the Island event this weekend.

How to participate

Anyone that shops at any business on the Island between November 30 through December 18 and spends $20 or more is able to enter to win a $500 shopping spree on the Island.

Shoppers will be able to drop off their original receipts and collect entry forms at eight locations on the Island.

Several small businesses on the Island donated $20 to $25 gift certificates to be part of the grand prize shopping spree for consumers.

Starting at 11 a.m., the drawing will be held December 20 at the SPI Visitors Center located at 610 Padre Boulevard.

Participants do not need to be present at the drawing to win.

Local impact

Created in 2010, South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Roxanne Ray said Shop the Island was established to encourage people to shop on the Island.

“ The shopping environment on the Island is unique,” Ray said. “We have shops and products for sale that people aren’t going to find anywhere away from the beach so people are able to find unique gifts, items and clothing.”

According to Ray, months such as November and December can sometimes be slower tourism periods for the Island.

“ People come to visit and they can find a place to stay, but they also need some place to shop so we need to keep these businesses alive during slow months,” she explained. “Like any other community, we’re trying to support our retail businesses and other small businesses and that’s what we’re here for.”

Last year’s Shop the Island event received close to 1,000 entries and $73,534 in receipts.

According to Ray, the event has continued to gain momentum each year.

“ That’s very exciting for us and it’s a good number especially when you consider that not everyone takes the time to register all of their receipts,” Ray said. “Certainly, the dollar amount and the number of entries have grown over nine years.”

Nation-wide impact

According to Nicole Leinbach-Reyhle, a Small Business Saturday spokesperson and founder of Retail Minded, more than $100 billion has been spent at independent businesses since Small Business Saturday was introduced in 2009.

“ American Express was inspired by one very simple thing, which is to increase customer retention for independent businesses,” Leinbach-Reyhle said. “They wanted to make sure small businesses across the country were gaining more visibility from consumers during what is traditionally a very busy time of year to shop.”

According to Leinbach-Reyhle, on average 67 percent of every dollar that a consumer spends at a small business stays within their local economy.

“ More importantly, for customers who are aware of the value of that dollar spent within their local economy, 75 percent are more likely to shop small,” Leinbach-Reyhle. “So it’s really important for customers to recognize the value of how they spend their dollars and how that directly impacts their local community.”

 

IF YOU GO
WHAT — Shop the Island
WHEN — Saturday, Nov. 30 through Wednesday, Dec. 18
WHERE — South Padre Island
RECEIPT DROP LOCATIONS — Cactus Flower, Paragraphs, S.O.S. Services, Ship Shape, Sisters Interiors, SPI Birding, Nature and Alligator Sanctuary, SPI Chamber of Commerce and Yummies Bistro
DRAWING — Friday, December 20 starting at 11 a.m. at the SPI Visitors Center, 610 Padre Boulevard

ahernandez@valleystar.com


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Two-day Cinesol film festival returns to SPI for 26th year

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas – “For me, every film should be a local film. No matter how big the budget, or how small the budget, you should have the locals involved.”

The 26th Annual Cinesol Film Festival returning to South Padre Island for two days of film screenings, featuring celebrity guest R.J. Mitte, famed for his role in the critically-acclaimed series, Breaking Bad.

Mitte’s grandparents are from Brownsville and he’s visited the South Texas city all throughout his childhood, making it all the more special to screen his new film, “Carol of the Bells” at the Cinesol festival.

“It’s such a warm and welcoming place here and it’s such an entity about Brownsville and all over this part of South Texas and it’s unique. There’s no other place like it in the world. I love coming down here I always love coming down here and it’s been a home to me,” said R.J. Mitte, Cinesol celebrity guest

His film, produced by Inclusion Films, is a company teaching filmmaking to the developmentally disabled, a cause close to Mitte. “They get to work on a full-feature film and kind of provide that hands-on experience working with leading professionals and learning students. And really trying to bridge that gap of knowledge.”

Cinesol Festival Director Henry Serrato has been involved in the festival since its second year and says that along with the advancement of technology, more people are turning to film making. This year 100 films were submitted, with 31 selected.

“People can shoot a film or a short on their phone. So we’ve seen technology make it accessible for filmmakers do more short films, so that means more films for us to watch and screen,” said Henry Serrato, Cinesol Festival Director.

Another film screened during Cinesol was “Ramona” a story shot in Brownsville about a woman reminiscing on her youth and struggles.

A producer of Ramona says he and others are working to build a strong film industry in the RGV.

“A lot of times in an area like this where incomes are lower they won’t see the opportunities to get into acting or get into working on crews. We want to create those opportunities locally for them and hopefully cultivate that even more,” said Roy De Los Santos-Cuellar, Founder of 6 Cats Production.

Cinesol continues into today with more film screenings and at 7 p.m., the winners of the 36-hour film race will be revealed.

by: Rocio Villalobos


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