South Padre Island Eyes $2 Million in Grants

The South Padre Island City Council on Wednesday accepted more than $2 million in grant funding to develop a multi-modal transit facility at the entrance to the Island. TxDOT awarded the City five separate grants through federal, rural transportation programs, the transit facility, upon completion,  will serve as headquarters for the WAVE bus system, carpool “rideshare” services will also be made available at the new facility.
In other business, the Council:
Approved a $417,013 budget amendment to go toward Gulf Boulevard Improvement Project.
Approved a lease agreement with Cameron County Elections Administration for the lease of one AutoMark election machine to be used for the General and Special Election Nov 4.
Approved contracting with AEP Texas Central Company for a temporary staging area at the northern parking lot of the Convention Centre to provide electric delivery service during emergency conditions.
Held public hearings to discuss the proposed 2014-15 Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan for the City of SPI; the proposed FY2014-15 budget; and for the first reading of the proposed amendments to the Planned Development District Standards, Specifications and Zoning for The Shores; no one spoke either for or against.
Approved a payment of an invoice from Gignac & Associates Architects for the Convention Centre Renovation Project.
Approved payment of the invoices to Broadduss and Associates for services rendered in January and February.
Considered accepting assistance – in goods and services – to the SpaceX launch facility on Boca Chica Beach.
Adopted a budget amendment for $5,008 for insurance proceeds associated with the center median repairs.
Authorized City Manager William DiLibero to execute an interlocal cooperation contract with the University of Texas-Brownsville to fund the graduate position during the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Approved executing an interlocal agreement with the Laguna Madre Water District to clean city water drains.


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City Seeks $2.4 Million for Culinary Arts Institute

The Port Isabel City Commission, at a special meeting Monday, authorized Port Isabel Economic Development Corporation to apply for approximately $2.4 million of loan funds through the Office of the Governor to develop a culinary arts institute.
The funding would be doled out over a 15-year period with no prepayment penalty to be used for re-purposing the Yacht Club Hotel and restoring the landmark to its original glory.
The proposed facility will include five classrooms and three kitchens for the culinary program. The fully-accredited institute is expected to create new jobs; and the school is projected to serve between 92 to 115 full-time students.
Construction/renovation plans call for: structural repairs to the foundation; floor; roof framing.


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SpaceX Expected to Break Ground Soon

Cameron County’s incentive package proposal for SpaceX has begun to take shape after officials on Thursday approved agreements concerning the company’s plans to construct a launch pad on Boca Chica Beach.
The Cameron County Commissioners’ Court agreed to waive 10 years of county taxes owed by SpaceX, or Space Exploration Technologies Corp., if the company brings its launch operations to South Texas. Commissioners also approved a draft of an economic agreement with SpaceX that states the responsibilities of each entity involved, including the Cameron County Spaceport Development Corp.
The Spaceport Board of Directors met Thursday afternoon to discuss the agreement and authorize Board Chairman Nick Serafy Jr. to sign it on behalf of the board. County Judge Carlos H. Cascos said the county’s legal counsel decided that the agreement, which was approved in open session, should not be made public until it is signed by SpaceX. Cascos said he anticipates that the agreement should be finished and available to the public within the next week.
“Until both parties sign off, we don’t have an agreement,” Cascos said.  “It took some work, but it’s done,” County Judge Carlos Cascos said following the Commissioners Court approval of the package.  A tax abatement agreement has a value of approximately $1.2 million to $1.4 million over a 10-year period. Also approved was a development agreement on several issues regarding security, reimbursable costs for security and safety zones.  “We approved both agreements and we have asked attorneys to draft the final agreements, and get them ready for my signature and SpaceX’s signature,” the county judge said.  These recent developments are a sign that a groundbreaking ceremony is not far from the horizon.


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Fishing For a Cause

It’s not too late to go fishing and donate money to a worthy cause all at the same time.
Anglers can still sign up for the ninth annual Fishing for Hope Tournament on Saturday to benefit the HopeFamilyHealthCenter in McAllen.  All they have to do is go to Louie’s Backyard, 2305 Laguna Blvd. from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. tonight. Late registration fee is $40, plus $125 per angler.
The tournament, which is being hosted by Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg, begins at 6 a.m. Saturday and continues until 3 p.m. Weigh-ins begin at noon at Louie’s, said Elisa Mares, community event coordinator for DHR.
More than 800 people have signed up for the event. “The anglers can dock out of anywhere,” she said. “It does not have to be Louie’s Backyard.” However, Louie’s is where the weigh-ins will be, and other events will happen later in the day.
The Doctors Hospital website says the annual “Fishing for Hope” tournament has raised more than $1 million for the Hope Family Health Center in the past nine years.

Travis M. Whitehead


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City of South Padre Island Economic Index July 2014

The CIty of South Padre Island recently released an Economic Index  prepared for the SPI EDC by AARON Economic Consulting.

Here is a summary of the report: External economic drivers indicate that the economies of Texas, the U.S. and Mexico will continue to grow in the short and medium term. The Conference Board Leading Economics indices for the U.S. and Mexico and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas Leading Economic index show that the U.S. will grow at 2.3% in 2014 and 3% in 2015. The medium-term (2014-2019) forecast for the U.S. is 2.4%.
South Padre Island’s most important drivers – hospitality & tourism and real estate continue to improve. South Padre Island’s occupancy tax revenue grew at 5.3% in 2013 relative to 2012. Current data show that the real estate sector in Texas and South Padre Island continues to improve. Average home sale prices for 2014 have been trending upward, sales increased from January to March and declined in April and May. However, home sales and dollar volume sales have increased. The real estate data also show continuous decline in month inventory since 2011.
In their previous report, AARON Economic Consultants, used tourism and hospitality data from Corpus Christi, Galveston, and Texas as benchmarks to evaluate South Padre Island’s economic performance. Their analysis shows that the Island outperforms the other Texas destinations during the summer peak months and during March and April because of the spring break vacation and underperforms during off-peak months. The four performance indicators used to measure the Island’s performance are expected to continue to show short and medium term overall annual growth with the marked disparities between peak and off-peak months to remain unchanged in the short term. We also expect the variability in economic activity to improve as South Padre Island’s leadership continues to develop strategies to market to and attract a different demographic during off-peak months. The expected change in the four indicators will vary between 4 and 6 percent for the occupancy tax revenue, between 3 and 5 percent for Sales Tax revenue, and between 3 and 5 percent for bank deposits. Building permits are expected to increase in 2015.

View the full report here…


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Aircraft Carrier to Be Hauled Away and Scrapped

Crews are preparing the decommissioned USS Saratoga aircraft carrier in Rhode Island for a trip to Texas to be scrapped.
Officials with Naval Station Newport say they expect the ship to depart the base Thursday morning and pass Fort Adams at about 10:45 a.m. before heading to the Esco Marine ship recycling plant in Brownsville, Texas. The Saratoga was supposed to leave Wednesday, but the voyage was postponed because of bad weather.
Esco Marine is being paid a penny by the Navy to dispose of the Saratoga and plans to make money by selling what it recovers from the ship.
The Saratoga was launched in 1955 and decommissioned in 1994. The vessel fell into disrepair, and an effort to preserve the ship as a museum failed.


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Harlingen Commission Set to Vote on SpaceX Deal

The City Commission is slated to vote on an incentive agreement Wednesday among the Harlingen Economic Development Corp., Cameron County and SpaceX in the space exploration firm’s plan to develop the world’s first commercial and private vertical launch site at Boca Chica Beach. The vote is scheduled for the commission’s regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. inside City Hall, 118 E. Tyler Ave.
The agreement provides for a job creation grant from Harlingen EDC to Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies of $450,000 to be made in three annual installments of $150,000, beginning 30 days after SpaceX hires its first full-time employee in the area.
The agreement specifies that SpaceX will hire at least 100 full-time employees with an average salary of $55,000 within the first three years of operation and that it will maintain these positions for at least five years. The agreement stipulates that 10 percent of new jobs shall be filled by residents of Harlingen.
In a press release that the city issued Monday, spokesman David Ralph quoted members of the community and Cameron County regarding SpaceX’s selection of Boca Chica Beach in Cameron County as follows:
• Cledia R. Hernandez, associate vice president of Corporate & Community Education for Texas State Technical College Harlingen, said that SpaceX will stimulate students’ interest in science, math and technology at all levels of education. The college already operates the Challenger Learning Center featuring space exploration concepts. “Together, TSTC and SpaceX will provide training programs that will produce skilled technical engineers and manufacturing professionals worthy of top salaries,” she said.
• Mark Kroll, dean of the School of Business at the University of Texas at Brownsville, who also serves on the Board of Directors for Valley International Airport in Harlingen, said that SpaceX and United Launch Alliance could become the foundation for an aerospace manufacturing cluster similar to automobile parts factories along both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s possible that SpaceX would want to build rocket components “at various points around the Rio Grande Valley,” he said. The SpaceX construction at Boca Chica Beach and other potential sites will mean more work for contractors and subcontractors, he added.

Emma Perez- Trevino


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SPI Wind Farm Permit Expires

A developer that planned Texas’ first off-shore wind farm has pulled its project, a South Padre Island official said. Austin-based Baryonyx Corp.’s two state leases — off of South Padre Island — have expired and the company has not re-applied for a new permit three months after it pulled its permit applica-tions for a wind farm it planned to build about five miles offshore. The wind turbines would have risen 541 feet above the water, state and federal officials said.
“I believe they’ve gone away,” Sungman Kim, the Island’s director of devel-opment services, said. “They were interested but they’re not anymore. There were environmental issues. They didn’t think it was feasible here.” The company did not respond to telephone calls this past week.
Environmentalists, who opposed the wind farm proposal, called the expi-ration of the leases “good new.” But they said they are remaining vigilant. Baryonyx’s two offshore leases expired July 20, Texas General Land Office spokesman Jim Suydam said.
Sandra Arnold, the Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman, said from the Galveston office the company has not applied to the agency. Baryonyx, whose pro-posed project was among seven originally tapped for possible $47 million U.S. Department of Energy grants, was not among three companies to land the grants on May 7, ac-cording to an Energy De-partment press release.

Fernando Del Valle


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PUMP IT UP Valley Stands to Gain for Energy Exploration in Mexico

Anyone who pays the slightest attention to the oil and gas industry knows that Texas is in the middle of a major energy boom, one concentrated largely on the vast Eagle Ford Shale formation that spans several counties in South Texas. The same formation happens to extend south across the border into Mexico, where it’s known as the Burgos Basin. While Eagle Ford already has dozens of exploration sites in operation, virtually nothing is happening south of the border — nothing yet, at least. The Mexican government late last year instituted sweeping reforms on several fronts, including energy. The result is that, for the first time, companies other than PEMEX will be able to invest in energy exploration and production in Mexico.

Historically, PEMEX — Mexico’s state-owned oil company — has had a monopoly on every aspect of that country’s oil and gas industry, including exploration and production, transportation, refining, marketing, etc. But PEMEX’s production has been declining, and the company lacks the wherewithal to develop the massive shale formation under its feet. That’s why Mexico’s congress is changing its constitution to allow foreign oil and gas companies to come in. Especially in demand are Texas companies that have experience developing Eagle Ford.

J. Carlos Marron, senior investment and trade commissioner for ProMéxico, spoke with The Brownsville Herald recently about Mexico’s need for outside technology, expertise and capital in developing the Burgos Basin, and about the role the Brownsville-Matamoros region can play in terms of manufacturing, transportation and logistics, and other services. ProMéxico is the Mexican government agency in charge of promoting international investments and trade. The agency has 44 offices around the world, 14 of them in the United States.

Marron was accompanied by Mexican Consul Rodolfo Quilantán and Marco Saldivar, president of AEM Brownsville-South Padre Island. AEM is a non-profit trade association for Mexican nationals interested in doing business in the United States, though it also facilitates U.S. investment in Mexico. Marron said the next step is for Mexican lawmakers to enact secondary legislation providing a road map for implementing energy reform. “That’s like the playbook,” he said.

Lack of a skilled labor force is one area where Mexico falls short in terms of being able to exploit its oil and gas resources. “That might be the biggest challenge we’re going to have,” Marron said. Marron believes University of Texas and Texas A&M institutions can provide the solution to that problem in the form of chemical engineering and petroleum engineering education in sync with the needs of energy developers working the Mexican shale. He expressed enthusiasm for the merger between University of Texas at Brownsville and UT-Pan American.

The country’s untapped oil and gas reserves aren’t confined to the Burgos Basin, but also include significant deep-water discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico. Again, PEMEX activity in the deep-water realm is nothing compared to the deep-water exploration taking place north of the border.

A large natural gas pipeline network will also have to be created, another area where the expertise of U.S. companies is essential, Marron said. For the Brownsville-Matamoros cross-border region to capitalize on new energy activity, more local infrastructure must be developed, he said. Success in the venture in general depends to a great degree on infrastructure development, Marron said. The anticipated opening of the new Brownsville-Matamoros rail bridge in August and the addition of lanes to Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates are a good start, he said. “But we need to see more of that, more collaboration from Washington and Mexico City, and get those infrastructure projects finalized,” Marron said. “That’s going to be key.”

He said there’s plenty of opportunity for smaller companies, not just multinationals, in the coming Mexican energy boom. However, a big part of putting U.S. money, expertise and technology to work in Mexico is showing potential U.S. investors how to proceed. That’s where groups like AEM and ProMéxico come in, Marron said.

“I think there’s right now a lot of companies from Texas in (the energy sector) that have never done business in Mexico, that haven’t turned to Mexico as an opportunity because, very understandably, in the past they didn’t think there was one,” Marron said. “Now they’re looking down into Mexico but they’re having very legitimate questions.” Saldivar is ready to field those questions from Texas firms. “If anyone has any interest in learning more or they have a business that they want to get involved in this whole process, all they have to do is call us and we’ll put them together with ProMéxico,” Saldivar said. “Or (AEM) can help them get their financing. We can help them get partnerships. There’s all kinds of things we can help them do with the network that we already have.”

Marron said the Valley most likely stands to gain in areas such as manufacturing, transportation and logistics, and other services that support the oil and gas industry. “I think for example in steel, in a lot of the different processes that are needed in order to build the different equipment for exploration, for drilling,” he said. “It’s going to be very important, but services are going to be key.” Mark Kroll, dean of UTB’s school of business, said he sees plenty of potential in general for additional manufacturing along the border. He noted that the region encompassing Brownsville, Harlingen, McAllen, Matamoros and Reynosa already has more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs — more than most major metro areas in the country. “If we can solve the human capital and security issues, that number could grow substantially—especially in the areas of advanced manufacturing,” Kroll said. “It is also no doubt true that if the reforms under consideration for PEMEX come to fruition, there will likely be considerable oil field services growth along the border.”

Carlos Marin, head of the Ambiotec Group, an infrastructure planning, engineering and management firm, and Brownsville’s leading torchbearer for a bi-national regional approach to economic development, cited several competitive advantages the Brownsville-Matamoros region has in tapping into new Mexican energy development. Among those advantages are the Port of Brownsville’s deep-water shipping capacity, with plans in the works to make the channel even deeper; existing advanced offshore oil platform engineering and construction capacity at the port; and the fact that the region is “located at the epicenter of vast onshore and offshore oil and gas reserves.”

Gil Salinas, executive vice president of the Brownsville Economic Development Council, agreed that the region’s geographic location is a plus in terms of servicing the oil and gas industry, but he warned against assuming it’s a done deal. “The biggest enemy for the Brownsville-Matamoros borderplex will be our desire to sit back and wait for this industry to happen in our backyard,” he said. “We, as a bi-national community, need to strategically and aggressively pursue it.” Saldivar noted that Mexico isn’t the first country to go through this process.

“Brazil already went through this,” he said. “Colombia already went through it, and they’re becoming powerhouses. It’s not anything that we’re reinventing. It’s just something we have to do. … But it’s coming. There’s no two ways about it.”


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Nature Report: SPI Birding and Nature Center

Poised motionless in the early morning stillness along the shore of the Lower Laguna Madre, a great blue heron stands ready to snatch any unwary fish that swims by.  With its rapier like bill and gleaming golden eye reflecting the dawn light, the heron is a study in concentration. Without a trace of wind, the surface of the bay mirrors the great blue as it turns its head in anticipation of a potential meal.
It's a beautiful morning at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, and there is no better place to see the avian residents of the Lower Laguna Madre. Kristin Howard is the director of the Center, and she has a special appreciation for the wildlife that resides here. Kristin Howard, Director SPI Birding and Nature Center says, "It is very peaceful here at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.  There are times that I might get really busy upstairs in my office, and I just come out here and walk the boardwalks and look at the birds, and the fish and the turtles and just the plants. It's just a wonderful place to be."
Joining the great blue heron on this tranquil morning, a great egret slowly wades the placid waters in search of prey. Nearby in the lush wetlands, a green heron stalks the shallows, but misses with its thrust.  As one of the Rio Grande Valley's nine World Birding Center sites, the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is open seven days a week and offers visitors a rare opportunity to get close to coastal creatures.
Kristin Howard says, "We are very proud of it.  It is one of the best-kept secrets on the island.  It is a great place for birders to come, for tourists to come."


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