A farewell reception for outgoing South Padre Island Mayor Robert Pinkerton and Councilperson JoAnn Evans was held at the Isla Grand Beach Resort on the Island last Wednesday, with family, friends, local first responders, and members of the community gathering to celebrate the pair’s years of service to the city.
Evans, arriving with her husband and looking relaxed and happy, had a frightening moment briefly before the festivities began; a short choking fit had attendees momentarily alarmed, but she recovered a few minutes later with a little assistance and some water.
Pinkerton was surrounded by several members of his family as well as many fellow city staffers and colleagues. City Secretary Susan Hill was in attendance and spoke warmly about her time working with Mayor Pinkerton.
“I’m going to miss him tremendously,” Hill said. “I’ve been with the city 30 years, and Bob 22, so we’ve developed quite a relationship. He’ll be missed – he brought a lot to the table.”
Roxanne Gunzel, SPI Chamber of Commerce President, echoed Hill’s sentiments, saying, “We’re grateful for their long-term service. It’s a hard job and they both did it for a long time.”
Pinkerton has served as mayor for more than 18 years, and has been involved in local business and government for decades. An affable, low-key gentleman, it’s not uncommon to see him driving about town, or greeting people, shaking hands and enjoying a beer at a local spots on the weekend. Many considered as much charming when compared to big city mayors, who travel with bodyguards and with whom you could not get within 10 feet of without ab appointment and a full body pat down.
Pinkerton is personable and approachable, qualities SPI Councilman Sam Listi remarked about. “Ten years ago, I had bypass surgery – where else can you live where the mayor calls to offer help when you’re in the hospital?” Listi said. “I’ve known him and worked with him for a long time. It’s been a roller coaster trip – some ups, some downs, and in the end we all end up screaming … for joy!” He exclaimed with a laugh.
Listi added, “It’s a joy they’re retiring. They’ve always been there, and they’ve done an amazing job.”
When asked what initially made him want to get involved in city government, the outgoing mayor said, “The Island was growing, and I wanted to be involved in the decision making process. I wanted to contribute.”
While there have been many difficult issues to deal with over the years, a few stick out in his memory as being particularly challenging.”
“Probably some of the most difficult have been the opposing annexation attempts by Port Isabel and insuring we got the COBRA issues resolved,” Pinkerton said, adding that his most enjoyable moments are when he’s representing the city at events, with legislators, and the public in general.
When asked for advice he’d give to incoming officials, Pinkerton offered, “Some of their decisions will be tough to make because it might affect friends, but they must stand their ground of they feel the decision is in the best interest of the city. This is the toughest part of the job.”
Evans has served for more than eight years and has been active in the community prior to serving, volunteering and serving on the Task Force for the new City Hall and the Convention and Visitors Advisory Board. She talked about her time in service, and some of the difficulties that come with the job.”
“There is seldom one perfect solution that will satisfy everyone when you’re dealing with complex issues,” Evans said. “Because of this, some issues are difficult as people can get pretty passionate about them.”
She spoke at length about the many projects she’s been involved with over the years, even going to Austin twice to testify before House and Senate committees, lobbying for funds for beach re-nourishment.
“I was really nervous, but it was challenging and that made it exciting,” Evans said. “Everyone told us it was a losing cause, but in the end, we were successful with an effort that has made a huge difference in our ability to take care of the beach.”
Evans also spoke about enjoying life in a community where “there are so many terrific people who live here, creative, fun individuals. “
She added, “I have found that the people in the community may not always agree with every decision I make, but most of them always treat me with kindness and respect as I try to treat them.”
Advice Evans offered to their successors was as follows: “Remember that you are just one of six, and only the group as a whole has any authority. Look at issues from all possible perspectives and keep an open mind.”
As for her current plans, Evans will still be involved in community activities, directing plays for the El Paseo Arts Foundation and working on the Gala Committee for COC.
At the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Advisory Board (CVA) meeting last Thursday afternoon, the board was given event reports for past, current, and future events including the Fall Concert Series, the Island Folk Festival, Beerfest, and the upcoming SPI Marathon.
With the Fall Concert Series nearing its end, the CVA Board requested details about the event from the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). In an email from Roadway Productions, the company producing the event, tentative results were given, but with two concerts left, there is still some accounting to be done. So far, the series has been a success with some concerts generating 800 to 900 in attendance.
Audiences have grown to twice the size since the beginning of the series, and the Island has seen an increase in out-of-town visitors. Marketing has been successful, but the CVB believes there is some room for improvement. When the series is complete, the contract states that the production company has 30 days to submit a report and 60 days to finalize the report.
Although the CVA Board has seen success, they are requesting that the CVB conduct surveys and get more firm numbers rather than estimates so as to get a clear picture of what has been done and what can be improved upon in the future. Kerry Schwartz, owner of Island Native and sponsor of the event, said. “I think it’s good for the city. I think it does put so called heads in beds.” He pointed out hat there have been a lot of faces and visitors at the concerts. The CVB expects continued success for the last couple of weekends.
Aarin Hartwell, cofounding producer of the Island Folk Festival, gave the board a post event report for the festival that took place on Sept. 5 and 6. The CVB sponsored the event with $7,000 for the marketing budget. Hartwell gave a thorough report showing documents on media marketing strategies, invoices, surveys, and budget details. She recently attended statewide music festivals to make contacts and solidify sponsors for next year’s festival. Some improvements were discussed, and Hartwell said that for next year, they would like to start earlier, spend more and add elements to their strategy. The board was pleased with the outcome and future projections.
The CVA was also given a presentation by Rachel Flores, Director of the CVB, covering the Beerfest Event, which took place in August 2014. The board contributed $25,000 to the SPI Beerfest Organization and has not received the final reports that were required by the contract within 60 days of completion of the event.
The CVB has been trying to contact the organization; however, they have not been able to reach event coordinators nor have they received any return calls or emails. Of even more concern is the fact that the contract came with a stipulation that a portion of the proceeds would be donated to Sea Turtle Inc., and as of Tuesday of last week, Sea Turtle Inc. has not received a payment. The CVB is expected to be notified as soon as that payment goes through.
Board members are concerned that the situation sounds fraudulent as they have seen a breach of contract. Further attempts will be made to contact the organization to get a handle on the situation. The CVA Board will be contacting the city’s legal department to discuss further action. This incident has also encouraged board members to do a better job of screening future applicants who are seeking sponsorship from the board.
In November 2015, the CVA will be sponsoring the South Padre Marathon in the amount of $90,000. The funds had been held with a contingency that the organization raise at least $50,000 in sponsorships. They were released at the meeting last Thursday after a presentation that showed over $75,000 already raised with sponsorships from L&F Distributors and Anheuser Busch, the Hilton Garden Inn, Clayton’s Beach Bar, Schlitterbahn, Valley Baptist, and more. HEB may potentially be the title sponsor for the event with meetings taking place later this week. Billboards will be posted around the state to attract runners to the marathon, and the marathon will be a qualifier for the Boston Marathon.
So far, the large scale event has received positive feedback Valleywide.
In August 2014, the City of South Padre Island applied for an outdoor recreational grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to fund the development of a new city park that will be located on the southeast corner of Sunset Drive and Gulf Boulevard in the lot located next to Travelodge. The SPI Parks, Recreation and Beatification Committee was given an update on the progress of the grant application at their meeting last Thursday morning.
Dr. Sungman Kim, Director of Development Services for the city, gave a presentation on the details of the SPI City Park Grant. The City Council previously passed a resolution authorizing the submission of an application for the grant in question to meet the August 2014 deadline. The potential grant is an Outdoor Recreation Center that supports the acquisition or development of public recreation areas and facilities to local governments with populations less than 500,000. If acquired, the grant would require a 50-50 matching amount from the city with a maximum of $400,000 with the remaining half provided by the TPWD’s Recreation Grant Branch. The property value is currently at $1.8 million, $600,000 of which meets the criteria used to determine which land can be applied towards the required matching amount. The grant will cover half of all actual expenditures.
The proposed project will be scored by the TPWD using the Project Priority Scoring System during a five month review process. The Recreation Grant staff will perform technical review which will be followed by a review from agency resource staff. Recreation Grant staff will also coordinate a review with the Texas Historical Commission (THC). When all reviews are complete, the Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) Commission who has the sole authority to award grants. Results will be announced at the end of January 2015, and if granted, the city will have three years to complete the project. City staff foresees a positive outcome with a minimum of 90 points received and up to 100 received by the TPWD. According to Dr. Kim, SPI is likely in good standing as the TPWD said that applicants who score below 90 points generally would not receive a grant. Some criteria for points are based on population, geographic distribution, innovative use, special populations, environmentally responsible activities and more. Dr. Kim also said that the project met the criteria to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and will have accessibility for those with disabilities.
City staff foresees a long term process with potentially three phases of development for the park; $250,000 has already been reserved in immediately available funds for the property development, and the city is prepared to move forward quickly after results are decided in January.
The Rio Grande Valley has become the second most popular birdwatching destination in the mainland United States, and state tourism officials hope to capitalize on that attraction.
About 100 local officials met Wednesday for the Texas Tropical Trail Region’s 2014 South Texas Tourism Summit to focus on development of tourism programs.
The Valley’s migratory bird count helps drive a growing nature tourism industry that draws birders, photographers, hikers, hunters and anglers to the region, Russell Gallahan, a senior economic development analyst with the Texas Comptroller’s Office, told officials at the L.E. Franks Tourist Center in Raymondville.
“The Rio Grande Valley is a hot spot for eco-tourism,” Gallahan said.
Teresa Caldwell, state coordinator of the Texas Heritage Trails Program, part of the Austin-based Texas Historical Commission, told local officials that their communities can become the centers for a growing industry known as heritage tour-ism.
Heritage tourism focuses on “traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past,” Caldwell said. Heritage tourism attracts tourists with higher incomes who spend more money during their trips, generating $8.7 billion in Texas in 2013.
Origins Recovery Center on South Padre Island is one of the premier rehab centers in Texas and has been nestled in the heart of the Island since 2010. With continued success and growth over the past few years, Origins began the request for a Specific Use Permit (SUP) to expand their properties here on the Island.
At the October 15 SPI Regular City Council Meeting, all discussions and plans began in 2013 finally came to a decision by the council to approve Origin’s request for the SUP for a Substance Abuse Treatment Facility to develop at 206 W. Aries Dr. Lot 4 Block 152 Padre Beach Subdivision and Lot 1 Block 1 Jones Gardere Subdivision Section X.
During the meeting, the public was given the opportunity to voice opinions and concerns about the permit request. Those in favor were able to speak first. Ellen Walker, resident of the Island and mother of a rehabilitated addict, wanted to share a unique perspective.
Her personal story of her son’s success at Origins was touching to all who listened. Through visits with her son, Walker and her husband were inspired to retire at the Island and are now active members who volunteer in the community. Walker shared, “In my opinion, the Origins Recovery Center brings nothing but goodness to the community. Their clients do volunteer work on the Island. Many work here in the community. Their families visit and stay in our hotels and eat at our restaurants.
She concluded by saying, “I had someone recently ask me how I would feel if Origins built directly next door to my home. I thought for a moment, and responded with confidence that I could not ask for a better and more stable neighbor. I would be proud to live in a community that supported a group that did so much good and provided the tools to so many individuals resulting in their personal miracles. I know my son would not be here had he not had his personal miracle at Origins.”
Those in opposition of the permit request lined up next for their chance to speak. Six people shared their concerns, the majority being owners of the property at Galleon Bay Condominiums, which sits adjacent to the proposed new site. Many of the owners were concerned about a lack of information from Origins regarding how the property would be developed and had previously filed a petition against the permit. The main concerns were aesthetics including obstruction of balcony views, safety, and property devaluation, as well as noise and commercial kitchen odors.
Ramona Kantack Alcantara, attorney representative for Galleon Bay, commented on the lack of council members present at the meeting. Only four members were in attendance for this particular meeting, and Kantack Alcantara argued that according to Title 7 of the local government code section 211.006, if a petition has been filed by the area covered by the proposed change extending from 200 feet from that area, then it is going to take three quarters of the vote of all members of the governing body to approve the permit. She appealed that five out of six council members must vote in favor to approve the SUP and that the decision should be postponed until a sufficient number of council members were present to reach a threshold.
She went on to say, “All of us who live and work here love Origins. They are a great organization. The question is, is this the proper neighborhood for them to locate in?”
The council addressed this issue explaining that the rule only applies to a zoning, boundary, or regulation change and not to a permit request.
Council member Alita Bagley said, “Thank all of you that are here this evening. We certainly appreciate and have heard your comments. I for one have read every letter that was sent to us. I can promise you that. I would imagine I can speak for my fellow council members that they have done the same.”
The council acknowledged the resident’s concerns: these concerns had been previously addressed by adding conditions to the permit that were based on discussions with local community members.
Council Member Berry Patel pointed out, “Origins has done a first class job in maintaining their existing property on Padre Boulevard.”
The lack of space on the Island is a significant factor in this issue, and the City Council has seen this matter many times. Council Member Alex Avalos referenced Schlitterbahn as a classic example of this situation because people initially had concerns, but he noted that Schlitterbahn has become an important part of the Island’s economy. Patel supported his comments, adding, “We live in about two square miles of property. That’s all we have folks. So, there are going to be times when the person that’s building a condominium complex or the facility such as this, will be an inconvenience. It’s just the mature of the beast since we live in an area that’s so compact. I’ve faced this issue many times on South Padre Island and had to live with it.” With that, he motioned to approve the Special Use Permit and the motion passed.
A lot has changed in the 13 years that Joe Vega has worked as deputy director of Cameron County Parks and Recreation.
“When I first started working as a deputy parks director, we had about 10 parks,” said Vega, now the interim director of county parks. “Now we have 17 parks that we are overseeing, a lifeguard beach patrol program, three splash parks and we’ve been very instrumental in working on the restoration efforts at the Bahia Grande.
“There’s been quite a bit of changes.”
In many ways, the changes have mirrored population growth in the Rio GrandeValley, and more are on the way as the county puts together a master plan for its coastal parks, which are some of the most popular in the system.
Vega said the master planning process should allow the county to evaluate its existing park infrastructure on the coast while determining how best to improve public access while generating economic development.
He said commissioners should have a draft plan in front of them sometime within the next couple months.
Besides Andy Bowie and E.K. Atwood parks, the latter of which is also known as Beach Access No. 5, the new plan being prepared by consultants will envision future improvements at beach accesses Nos. 3, 4 and 6, as well as the park system’s crown jewel: Isla Blanca Park on the southern tip of South Padre Island.
For decades, its jetties, surf and recreational vehicle parking have made Isla Blanca a revenue generator, but Precinct 1 Commissioner Sofia Benavides said the new master plan will allow the county to maximize usage of the county’s coastal parks.
The timing is perfect, Vega said, noting the area’s newest attraction, which is currently under construction across the ship channel from Isla Blanca.
“With SpaceX coming around the corner (Isla Blanca) will be an ideal location to witness that,” Vega said, envisioning crowds packed into the park all looking south toward the spot where Elon Musk and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has begun work on the world’s first commercial rocket launch pad.
Benavides, whose precinct includes all of the coastal parks involved in the master planning process, said she personally wants to see a facility at Isla Blanca that would offer visitors a venue to watch rocket launches, which would be just a few short miles south of the ship channel.
Already published security procedures indicate that while the rockets will take off from the end of State Highway 4, there will be limited access at BocaChicaBeach, with visitors anticipated to be stopped at the Border Patrol substation, which lies a few miles to the west of the launch pad.
Pedestrians’ awkward walk alternating between the edge of Hwy 100 and the strip will soon be a thing of the past for the people of Port Isabel. The city received a grant from the UT Health System and an ordinance was approved for the construction of a new sidewalk along the busy thoroughfare.
The Texas Department of Transportation provided engineering blueprints for the project. The sidewalk was proposed to provide both a clear path for pedestrians to walk around the area and encourage health in the city.
“We did it for both safety and health reasons,” explains Major Joe Vega. “For many years along Highway 100, there were some areas that had unsafe voids and people would have to uncomfortably cross into the street, so this is a great project. We’re also looking into doing landscaping to continue beautifying the community.”
The new sidewalk, which is roughly a $40,000 project, will start at the small bridge on Highway 100 and continue westbound before ending on 4th Street. Weather permitting, the sidewalk is expected to be completed within a week. The pathway comes at a fitting time as it provides an additional means to exercise prior to the various charitable runs and marathons, which take place in the area during the latter end of the year.
A new passenger terminal is cleared for takeoff today after the Brownsville City Commission accepted a $1 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to develop a conceptual design for improvements at the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport.
The City Commission voted unanimously to accept the grant along with a second, $50,000 grant during its regular meeting Tuesday night.
That money, granted by the Texas Department of Transportation, will be put toward routine maintenance, but there are big plans for the FAA grant money.
The FAA grant will cover a handful of projects, including design and environmental assessment work on the new passenger terminal.
Airport Director Larry Brown said last night’s vote was mostly a formality and that work can begin as early as today on the project.
“We’ve already got the grant approved,” he said. “The money’s ours.”
Brown explained that the airport is hoping to leverage more funds into its terminal project once the environmental assessment is complete in about a year.
Once the city clears that hurdle it will be eligible to seek other funds, he said, although the plan is to seek out more FAA funding as the process continues.
Phase 4 of the terminal program involves putting together the final design in late 2015 and finishing up in early 2016.
“Then comes the big deal,” Brown said, explaining that the airport will need to finance the actual construction work.
Brown’s favored terminal concept is expected to cost between $22 million and $25 million.
The overall plan calls for construction to begin in late 2016 and for the project to be closed out in 2018.
The grant will also pay to update the airport’s layout plan – a “mini master plan,” Brown said – and to refurbish a fire truck that will buy the airport another five years to purchase a replacement.
Improvement plans at the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport will soon become reality as the City Commission is set to approve more than $1 million in grant funding for the airport during tonight’s meeting.
The regular meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall on East Elizabeth Street.
The city will receive just over $1 million from the Federal Aviation Administration to update the airport layout plan and perform preliminary design and environmental assessments for a new passenger terminal building.
The airport will receive another $50,000 from the Texas Department of Transportation for routine maintenance.
A 5:15 p.m. workshop on becoming an English Language Learner mentor will precede a 5:30 p.m. executive session regarding economic development.
The polls will open at 8 a.m. at early voting locations across Cameron County today in advance of the Nov. 4 general election.
Local voters will be asked to choose Texas’ next governor while also choosing candidates for U.S. Congress and Cameron County Judge. Additionally, voters within the BrownsvilleIndependentSchool District will be asked to choose candidates for the BISD Board of Trustees.
Early voting will continue through Oct. 31.
This election will once again be held according to the state’s voter identification law, which requires voters to show appropriate photo ID when casting their ballots.
A Texas driver’s license, passport or other form of acceptable photo identification is required to vote, although voters can cast a provisional ballot if they do not have any with them.
For such a provisional ballot to be counted, the voter must bring appropriate ID to the elections office before Nov. 10.
The voter ID requirement was in place during the March primary and subsequent runoff elections, but court actions this month brought the law’s enforcement into question.
After a District Court opined that the law was unconstitutional, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay requiring that the status quo be maintained until after the election. The Texas Secretary of State’s elections division told elections officials across the state last week to conduct the elections according to the voter ID law just a day before training began for early voting poll workers in Cameron County.
The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in over the weekend and gave elections officials definitive instruction to proceed, eliminating the chances that polling place operations would be changed during the election.
For more information about the requirements of the voter ID law, visit the Secretary of State’s website.
Here is a lis tof early voting sites:
➤ Cameron County Elections Dept., 954 E. Harrison, Brownsville;
➤ Brownsville Public Library, 2600 Central Blvd., Brownsville;
➤ Brownsville Public Library, 4320 Southmost Blvd., Brownsville;
➤ BISD Administrative Building, 1900 E. Price Road, Brownsville
➤ Cameron Park Community Center, 2100 Gregory Ave., Brownsville;
➤ Browne Road Social Service Center, 9901 California Road, Brownsville;
➤ Harlingen Cultural Arts Center, 576 ‘76 Drive, Harlingen;
➤ San Benito Community Building, 210 E. Heywood St., San Benito;
➤ County Annex Building, 505 Highway 100, Port Isabel;
➤ Old Sam Houston Elementary School, 474 Villarreal, La Feria;
➤ Los Fresnos Community Building, 204 N. Brazil, Los Fresnos;
➤ Rio Hondo Annex Building, 125 Colorado, Rio Hondo;
➤ Santa Maria ISD Board Room, 11119 Old Military Highway 281, Santa Maria;
➤ Santa Rosa County Annex; 116 Santa Vista Ave., Santa Rosa;
➤ Riverside Middle School, 35428 Padilla St., San Benito;
➤ TSTC Cultural Arts Center, 1825 No. Loop 499, Harlingen;
➤ UT-Brownsville La Sala at Student Union, 650 E. Ringgold St., Brownsville;
➤ Valley Baptist Medical Center, 2101 Pease St., Harlingen;
➤ Valley Regional Medical Center, 100A E. Alton Gloor Blvd., Brownsville;
➤ Valley Baptist Medical Center, 1040 W. Jefferson, Brownsville;
➤ South Padre Island City Hall, 4601 Padre Blvd., South Padre Island
The times and dates will vary during early voting.
Call the Cameron County Voter Registration and Elections Office for voting hours and dates at (956) 544-0809.