Valley officers accept lip-sync challenge

Once officers caught wind of the lip-sync challenge that was spreading through Texas, they knew eventually it was going to be their turn to show off their skills in the squad car.

So when Santa Rosa Police Chief Ronnie Hernandez accepted the challenge from his lieutenant, they recorded their song “Bringing Sexy Back” in the department SUV.

And then Hernandez challenged Cameron County Precinct 5 Constable Eddie Solis over the phone.

“It was exciting,” Hernandez said. “It was just for fun.”

Police in Port Isabel, San Benito and Weslaco also have posted videos doing the Texas police lip-sync challenge. The most recent challenges went out to South Padre Island and Laguna Vista.

The challenges started in San Antonio, and department officers began challenging each other across Texas.

Solis said a San Antonio officer who made videos to entertain his friends was asked by the police department to make a video to help recruit new officers.

For one week, starting near the end of June, officers from departments across Texas began posting their lip-sync video and challenges.

Solis said after the challenges began surfacing on Facebook, he started receiving messages from his followers on Facebook that it was his turn to do the lip-sync challenge.

Many genres of music had been recorded by officers, including rock, rap, country and Tejano.

And last Sunday after church, Solis said he found the time and picked a song to lip-sync.

Little did he know his rendition of the Christian song “I Can Only Imagine” played by the band named Mercy Me would take off. During a span of 24 hours, his post on Facebook had more than 200,000 views.

On Tuesday his video had reached nearly half a million views, 10,000 likes and 14,000 thousand shares.

“There are some good videos, but I think a lot of people are going to be touched by mine,” Solis said.

His video has not spiked as more and more people are watching and sharing Solis’ lip-sync challenge.

He said since his video posted, he has received hundreds of friend requests on Facebook from all over the United Sates and Texas thanking him for his service and picking that particular song for the lip-sync challenge.

“I learned that song at a church retreat,” Solis said. “I did it for the man up stairs, and all my followers on Facebook.”

RAUL GARCIA, Staff Writer

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Rio Grande Valley cities react after plastic bag ban ruled illegal

On Monday, Attorney General Ken Paxton ruled it's now illegal for cities to ban plastic bags. A letter was sent out to 11 cities in Texas. Brownsville, Laguna Vista and South Padre Island all received letters from Paxton’s office.

The cities were identified by the Texas Supreme Court as cities that have banned plastic bags. According to the letter from Paxton’s office, Texas Health and Safety code prohibits the banning of plastic bags.

The letter cited the Texas Supreme Court's ruling in the case of the City of Laredo v. Laredo Merchants Association, saying that bag bans violate Texas law regarding waste disposal.

Brownsville City Manager Michael Lopez said the city wants to work with businesses to find other possible solutions, if the city's ordinance is repealed.

"We think it does help the community. As you are aware we did it with the flooding, there's always a concern about trash and we know the single use did have some contribution to that," Lopez said. "To move forward, having more outreach with our vendors who participated to see if we can continue you that process with or without an ordinance."

When CBS 4 reached out to South Padre Island city officials for comment, they sent the brief statement, " We are in the process of reviewing the findings with our legal team.”

Lopez will present the ordinance to Brownsville City Commissioners on July 17. From there, they will decide whether or not to repeal the ordinance. The public will be allowed to speak their minds.

by Stephen Sealey

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Traveling clan stakes claim on South Padre Island

It’s not hard to imagine the Buntin family with its own reality show, though the reality of this sprawling, musical, nautical, entrepreneurial clan — now ensconced on South Padre Island — may be beyond the grasp of television.

Helmed by Texas native Rupert Buntin, the Buntins’ adventures have taken them to Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and Washington state, attracting media attention and entertaining/mystifying crowds along the way.

In January, the family purchased the Palm Street Pier on the Island, renaming it the “Lobo del Mar Café.” All the family’s business ventures — parasailing, marine charter, entertainment, etc. — are done under the Lobo del Mar moniker.

The Buntins arrived here from Port Hadlock, Wash., where they owned a marine salvage operation, a parasailing company and a trading post. During their spare time, they entertained tourists and locals with their trademark, homegrown musical extravaganza featuring guitars, drums and bagpipes, Celtic, Middle Eastern, flamenco and Mexican folk music, and Irish step, hula and belly dancing.

“Our show, what we did in Washington and Hawaii for a long time, that’s three hours long usually,” said Brady Buntin, a bagpipe player, bagpipe builder and the ninth of Rupert and Carrol Buntin’s 11 children.

“There’s 18 dancers and they do these big numbers. It’s got all this stuff going on.”

So much that it won’t all fit in the Lobo del Mar Café, thus the full show has been staged only a few times on the Island, and at other venues. Still, Lobo del Mar features live, local music seven days a week, including the “fam jam” every Tuesday.

“It’s just us boys, and I’ve got a niece that plays slide guitar and Dobro,” Brady said. “She plays with us, and it’s just all of our tunes that we like to play, that Mom and Dad like to hear.”

STEVE CLARK, Staff Writer

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Rescue group hopes CT scan helps treat turtles

Five turtles in the care of Sea Turtle Inc. took a trip to the mid-Valley earlier this week in hopes that CT scans will reveal more about their medical conditions and point to potential treatments. Licensed Veterinary Technician Nina Nahvi said the turtles are doing well, and the center is awaiting the results. Tom de Maar, senior veterinarian at Gladys Porter Zoo, is attending veterinarian at Sea Turtle Inc. and will determine the best way to care for the turtles. Caretakers took the turtles Sunday to Texas Health Care Imaging in Weslaco, which performed the scans for free, she said. It’s the third time Sea Turtle Inc. has used CT scans to learn more about its turtles’ ailments. Nahvi said that while sea turtles can live outside water for weeks at a time, staff try to limit that because it can be uncomfortable and stressful for them. Their trip to get the scans took about four hours, she said. Two of the green sea turtles, Reveille and Tyler Durden, suffer from a disease called fibropapilloma that causes tumors on exterior soft tissue, she said. The CT scans will help determine if they also have internal tumors, which are difficult to see on X-rays. Nahvi said the disease is caused by a virus that is similar to herpes in humans and can cause tumors to grow on turtles’ flippers and around their eyes. It affects mostly green sea turtles and is believed to be tied to water quality or pollution, she added, and it occurs worldwide. De Maar removes the tumors with a surgical laser, Nahvi said, but they grow again in the same area. “It’s almost like we’re putting a bandage on it, but we’re doing the best we can,” she said. Sea Turtle Inc. has partnered with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on research into the disease that hopefully will lead to a treatment, she added. Reveille was not in the mood to cooperate during the CT scan appointment even after being given a sedative, and Nahvi said the turtle had to be swaddled like a baby to get the scan done. “You can’t just tell a turtle to sit still, unfortunately,” she said. Another green sea turtle, Verde, was left unable to use her back flippers due to spinal injuries after being struck by a boat, Nahvi said, which has also caused buoyancy issues. It’s unlikely that Verde will be able to be released, she said, because the turtle can’t dive for food and is at risk of getting hit by another boat. However, the CT scan will show the severity of those injuries and help Sea Turtle Inc. staffers learn the root of Verde’s buoyancy problems, Nahvi said. It’s also unclear why Great Scott, a green sea turtle, and Leo, a hawksbill turtle, have buoyancy problems, Nahvi said, though she’s hopeful the CT scans will provide more information on the cause. Bloodwork and X-ray scans so far haven’t answered that question. “There’s got to be a reason why,” she said, adding that pneumonia, gastrointestinal tract or congenital problems are possible causes. The CT scans are being done by a specialist with Animal Imaging in Dallas, Nahvi said, and are expected to be given to Sea Turtle Inc. soon.


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After long wait, Brownsville airport has ticket for a new terminal

DALLAS – Brownsville, Texas, is preparing a bond deal to subsidize a new airport terminal that's been in the works for more than a decade. Texas' southernmost city expects to issue $25 million of certificates of obligation for the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport in mid-July, according to Noe Hinojosa Jr., the city’s financial adviser and chief executive of Estrada-Hinojosa & Co.

The city chose JPMorgan Securities, led by executive director Doug Hartman and vice president Pedro Ramos, as sole underwriter.

JPMorgan is also a direct lender on another $26.5 million of tax notes to be used as a revolving note program to help fund the balance of the project.

“The notes are expected to be reimbursed in part by FAA grants,” Hinojosa said, referring to the Federal Aviation Administration. “The city received a commitment letter for $12.7 million from FAA early this year but expects to receive more due to the size of the project and the expected commercial flight activity in years to come.”

The certificates, maturing in 25 years, are payable in the first five years by sales tax revenue from the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp. and the Brownsville Community Improvement Corp.

The approach stands in contrast to typical commercial airport bond financings that are repaid using airport revenue.

The Brownsville City Commission on May 15 approved annual debt service of $945,000 from the GBIC and $365,000 from the BCIC.

The Brownsville Public Utilities Board has also dedicated $1.2 million for utility infrastructure, and the airport itself will contribute about $250,000 each year to the project, according to airport director Bryant Walker.

The certificates carry ratings of AA from S&P Global Ratings and Aa3 from Moody’s Investors Service. Outlooks are stable.

The debt is considered a general obligation of the city, payable from property taxes if necessary. The maximum allowable ad valorem tax rate in Texas is $2.50 per $100 of assessed value for all purposes, with the portion dedicated to debt service limited to $1.50.

“The city's total tax rate is well below the maximum, at 70 cents, 25.1 cents of which is dedicated to debt service,” according to S&P analyst Amahad Brown. “The certificates of obligation have an additional pledge of surplus revenue from the city's municipal landfill system or airport, or both. However, we rate the certificates based on the city's ad valorem pledge.”

Moody’s analyst Ryan Mills said the rating “also reflects weak resident income indices, a solid trend of stable financial performance, a manageable debt profile, and above average but manageable pension burden.”

Bids for redevelopment of the airport serving Brownsville and the resort community of South Padre Island came in this month, with the award expected the first week in August, Hinojosa said.

Site work has already begun on the project, which will produce a new 85,000-square-foot terminal near the current terminal built in 1971. The old terminal will then be demolished.

Plans to replace the old terminal have been in the works for more than a decade. The entire project should be complete by mid-2020, officials say, though the new terminal will open a few months earlier.

“We don’t have much room in the waiting area,” said Shawn Schroeder, assistant director for BRO. “Since 9/11, obviously things have changed in terms of security. We only have two gates and capacity is constrained.”

Designed for an easier, breezier era of air travel, the original terminal was a portal that passengers walked through almost freely on their way to and from their airplane.

“The building wasn’t designed to accommodate the security restrictions now inherent in all airport operations,” according to a 2015 federal study. “As a result, the airport is working within the constraints of an age that has long since passed, leaving them with operational challenges as they seek to grow.”

Among the terminal’s cited deficiencies was the fact that it is too close to the airfield, limiting operations at the terminal to regional jets as the design aircraft and therefore limiting long-term growth potential.

The ramp serving aircraft is also too small to accommodate commercial aviation beyond regional jet aircraft.

The building is also too small for the passenger demand, forcing the airport to limit access to the hold rooms until just prior to scheduled departure. That places a high demand on security screening over a short period of time, creating crowded conditions in the departures hall.

The Federal Inspection Services area is not designed to Customs and Border Patrol standards and depends on the passenger hold room for passport control processing.

“Any improvements to the present terminal building will provide only enough space to raise current service levels and then meet only near-term growth,” the federal study said. “Further, any improvements would not provide sufficient space to market the airport to new entrant carriers nor do they address long-term forecasted growth.”

The airport has hosted sporadic international commercial air activity. Between July 2011 and June 2013, Aeromexico provided scheduled service between the industrial city of Monterrey, Mexico and Brownsville with regional jets. While the average load factor in 2012 was about 55%, it dropped to 36% in the first six months of 2013 before the airline discontinued service.

“Brownsville, however, is in a strategic location to attract some of the Mexican travelers going to visit the Rio Grande valley due to its closeness to South Padre Island and businesses in the area as well as its Federal Inspection Service facility, which operates 24 hours per day and seven days per week,” the 2015 study noted. “Monterrey and Brownsville are only 166 miles apart, but many travelers prefer to fly rather than drive that distance due to security issues in Mexico.”

The BRO site includes 300 acres designated as Foreign Trade Zone 62. Foreign-trade zones are secure areas under U.S. Customs and Border Protection supervision that are generally considered outside CBP territory upon activation. Located in or near CBP ports of entry, they are the United States’ version of what are known internationally as free-trade zones.

The airport is also expected to face more demand for air transportation from companies building facilities at the Port of Brownsville and a Space-X launch site on the coast.

"We haven't seen much impact from Space-X yet, but we’re looking in the future and they’re looking at the future," Schroeder said.

At the moment, service is limited to United Airlines and American Airlines, which send small jets to their hubs in Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth.

In November, United Airlines will begin nonstop service from Brownsville to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

The South Padre Island mayor’s office and SPI Convention and Visitors Bureau have also pledged marketing dollars to support the flight.

The airport hired consultant Air Service Development to produce the data used to convince United that the route was worth launching from the gate-challenged O’Hare.

The Rio Grande Valley attracts about 100,000 “snowbirds” or “winter Texans” from northern states from October through March.

The Brownsville airport competes with the larger Valley International Airport in Harlingen, 25 miles to the north. VIA, which has more than seven times the traffic of Brownsville, also touts itself as “Gateway to South Padre Island” and has scheduled service from Southwest, United and Delta airlines.

"We’re trying to get more of the leisure traffic," Schroeder said. "Obviously, we are closer to the island than VIA."

With a population of about 183,000, Brownsville attracts shoppers from its sister city of Matamoros, Mexico, on the opposite bank of the Rio Grande. The population of Matamoros is estimated at about 500,000.

Brownsville is the seat of Cameron County, population 408,000 per the 2010 census. Cameron is one of four counties that make up the fast-growing Rio Grande Valley, along with Hidalgo, Willacy and Starr counties. The population of the four counties grew from 325,000 to more than 1.3 million by 2014.

Richard Williamson

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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.


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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.


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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

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.




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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