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The city of South Padre Island is sending a message out to visitors concerning recent reports about high levels of bacteria in waters along several Texas beaches. City officials said they regularly check the Texas Beach Watch website for bacteria levels in the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre. “Since the beginning of this summer season, there haven’t been any high or unusual readings,” said Patrick Barrineau, city of South Padre Island shoreline management director. “There is no reason to believe the events further up the coast would repeat themselves here, so we look forward to seeing you this summer!” South Padre Island officials encourage visitors to check surf conditions by using the flag system.

For more information on water quality, visit the Texas General Land Office’s beach watch website at: https://cgis.glo.texas.gov/Beachwatch/.target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”

Located in the heart of Port Isabel is a one-acre tract of land, people have been dying to get into since 1840, the Port Isabel Cemetery. Once a part of the land grant given to Don Rafael Garcia by the Mexican government in 1829, it was known as the Santa Ysabel Grant.

Don Rafael established a ranch there, he called “El Fronton de Santa Isabel” or Saint Elizabeth’s Bluff. He continued to reside in Matamoros, Mexico but hired workers to actually run and operate the ranch. They soon began to use this site as a burial ground as early as 1840. Although no grave markers from that time period being made of wood have actually survived, there are grave markers that date back to the 1880s that can be seen.

In 1849, French Missionary Oblates (individual laypersons or clergy affiliated with a monastic community of their choice while not necessarily being a professed monk or nun) of Mary Immaculate consecrated this burial site for use as a Catholic cemetery. It has, however, throughout its years been used as a community burial ground for people of all faiths.

As time passed on the land changed hands to the Champion family, the Campeoni’s who immigrated to America from Italy in the early 19th century. Charles Champion also known as Don Carlos was the sole owner of the lands of Point Isabel and donated the burial site to the church in 1925. The first documented interment was that of Maj. Samuel Ringgold. Major Ringgold who developed the concept of the “flying artillery” was credited for much of the victory at the Battle of Palo Alto, where he was mortally wounded by Mexican artillery on May 8, 1846. His body was later moved to the national cemetery in Dallas.

At one time Port Isabel hosted the world’s largest shrimping fleet. Virtually 90% of this small fishing village’s population was involved and the grave markers illustrate this with reflections of shrimp boats, anchors and other associated symbols of its past.

The city and the Port Isabel Museum was one of the first South Texas sites to have a “Day of the Dead” celebration since 2001, featuring a tour of the cemetery. In 1990, the Texas Historical Commission designated the cemetery a state historical site. It remains to this day an important historical site and element of the Port Isabel community.

Kenneth Moore

A look of fierce concentration quickly turned into a smile as 8-year-old Emma Coleman successfully navigated a wave on her first solo ride on a surfboard. With her parents looking on nearby, she waved, holding her thumb and pinky finger outstretched in the familiar surfer greeting of ‘hang ten.’ Mom, Danielle, and dad, Tim, cheered their daughter on as she paddled back out to catch yet another wave. Nearby, a volunteer waded into the waves with their 6-year-old son, Sam, in tow on a surfboard of his own.
The Harlingen family are regular visitors to South Padre Island, making the trip from the Capital City of the Rio Grande Valley to the Island at least once a week throughout the year, Tim said. But Monday’s trip was just a little more special because it was also International Surfing Day. To celebrate, the Surfrider Foundation South Texas Chapter held its 10th annual kids’ surf clinic. “We’ve been trying to get into this free clinic for a couple of years, so we were really thrilled,” Danielle said.
Indeed, the event has grown in popularity every year. What began a decade ago with just a few volunteers and only about 40 kids has grown to a day-long affair where over 100 kids take to the water on longboards under the tutelage of local surfers, said Rob Nixon, president of the local Surfrider chapter.


Sun Country Airlines is returning to Harlingen. The Minneapolis-based airline suspended seasonal passenger flights to Harlingen in July 2015, although it continued to provide charters to casinos in Nevada.
Airlines executives said they were responding to demands of their customers for passenger flights between Minnesota and Harlingen. “Our customers asked, and we listened,” said Zarir Erani, president and chief executive officer of the airline. “We value the insights our passengers share with us, and we look forward to continuing to grow our roster of seasonal destinations.”
The seasonal, nonstop flights to Valley International Airport were popular with Winter Texans from the Upper Midwest, and will again be available starting Nov. 10. Flight and hotel vacation packages are also available through Sun Country Vacations, the company said.
With the addition of Harlingen, Sun Country Airlines services a total of 37 destinations throughout the year. Flights will operate every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from Nov. 10 through April 23, 2017. “We are excited to continue our long-standing partnership with Sun Country Airlines and look forward to offering additional nonstop flights between the Rio Grande Valley and Minneapolis this coming winter season via Harlingen,” said Marv Esterly, director of aviation at VIA.
For more on this Sun Country destination and to book travel, visit: suncountry.com. Like many airlines, Sun Country has had its ups and downs in recent years. In 2008 the airline filed for bankruptcy protection but continued to operate.
Earlier this month, Sun County was approved for two direct daily flights from Minneapolis to Cuba by the Department of Transportation. A Saturday flight will be available to Juan Gualberto Gómez Airport in Matanzas and a Sunday flight to Santa Clara’s Abel Santamaría Airport. It was unclear when those Cuba flights would begin.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer

Ironically, motorists may be among the primary beneficiaries of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s decision to designate the Texas Gulf Intracoastal Waterway between Brownsville and Port Arthur the “M-69 Marine Highway.”
So says Steve Tyndal, senior director of marketing and business development for the Port of Brownsville. He explained that the M-69 designation makes the waterway eligible for federal funding, with the aim of spurring waterborne transportation that ultimately would improve the flow of traffic on I-69 by reducing truck traffic. Oversized loads, which frequently require escort vehicles when transported over land, are ideal for waterborne transport as long as it doesn’t have to be there fast, Tyndal said.
“That type of cargo is really not suited for highways,” he said. “This might be a way to actually remove that traffic from I-69. Of course, when you do that you increase the fuel efficiency of the delivery of that cargo, because you’re using a tug and barge as opposed to multiple trucks. And you lessen the potential for conflict with passenger vehicles.”
Greater fuel efficiency means fewer emissions, another positive aspect of tug and barge transport, Tyndal said. Although the port’s maritime operations would benefit from any additional throughput, the M-69 designation won’t necessarily translate into a big revenue increase, he said. That said, the port would be eligible to apply for federal funding for capital improvements to support M-69 cargo operations, if those operations have been approved by the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD), Tyndal said.
The offices of U.S. representatives Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, and Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, announced the designation June 3 and again June 7. Vela was quoted saying it would “improve and expand the efficient flow of vehicular and maritime traffic on our roads and at our water ports, which in turn will help create jobs and grow our South Texas economy.” The M-69 corridor encompasses the Gulf of Mexico, the Intracoastal Waterway and connecting commercial navigation channels, ports and harbors within the state, including 13 shallow-draft ports and 11 deepwater ports, including the Port of Brownsville.

By STEVE CLARK | Staff Writer

If you need an excuse to explore the countryside on a Friday afternoon, look at a chicken, pet a goat, or buy a melon or a hunk of cheese, you’re in luck. The Bayview Farm Crawl kicked off May 13 and will go year round each Friday from noon to 6 p.m. For now, five farms near each other in the Bayview area are taking part in the weekly event: Acacia Farms, Bayview Veggies, Franny’s Garden, River’s End Nursery and Thompson Farms — names that should be familiar to patrons of area farmers markets.
Besides affording the public a chance for a rustic adventure, the Farm Crawl benefits the farmers as well. Jack Moffitt of Bayview Veggies, on North San Roman Road just south of Perez Road, said he’s seen a roughly 20-percent bump in weekly sales. “It used to be zero sales on Friday,” he said. “We kept the gates locked and we harvested. “We could have been selling the veggies the whole time. It’s found money, basically.” Moffitt said he now gets about 20 visitors on Fridays. Thompson Dairy Farms, at 38141 F.M. 510, gets even more, he said. “He pulls them in over there probably double that,” Moffitt said. “He’s a little more centrally located, and he’s got cheese and baby goats that have to be fed.”
River’s End at 27510 Ted Hunt Rd., known for its annual summer “Mango Fiestival,” and Acacia Farms at 39629 Palm Dr. have reported bumps in their Friday sales, he said. Produce is at a “low ebb” this time of year because of the heat, Moffitt said, though watermelons and okra will be available and, besides, a visit to the country is fun — especially for kids who aren’t used to it. Moffitt said he remembers running around on relatives’ farms when he was a boy. “I’ve really enjoyed the kids coming out,” he said. “Seeing a chicken up close and personal is a pretty rare event in their life.”
Children are welcome to explore Bayview Veggies as long as they don’t try to “start any engines,” mess with equipment or get tangled up in fencing, Moffitt said. “I like seeing them do it,” he said. “It brings back a lot of good memories.”
Moffitt said he’d like to get bicyclists interested in the crawl, noting that Bayview Veggies features plenty of “good old country-style pasture parking” for vehicles to park and unload bikes. The crawl is a shoe-string operation, with small signs at intersections to guide visitors. Bayview municipal ordinances forbid big signs, though Moffitt said he puts up a banner at his farm every Friday. A map is available at the Bayview Farm Crawl Facebook page. Moffitt admitted he’s had to guide in more than one lost crawler via phone. “I answer my phone during those six hours, so I’m air traffic control,” he said.

The Gladys Porter Zoo has some new members to add to its animal family. Last week, a few Galápagos tortoise eggs began hatching in the zoo’s incubator. “Until they’re ready (to leave the incubator), we keep them wrapped up to simulate being underground. They spend up to two weeks to finish absorbing the yolk,” said Ashley Ortega, a reptile keeper at the zoo. The newly born females will be raised by the zoo for about the next five years. Afterward, the tortoises will be transferred to another zoo or facility based on their bloodline.
“We mark the eggs with the day they were laid and the names of the parents so we make sure that we aren’t mixing up bloodlines. If we send them to different areas and if we didn’t have the correct parents, it would be a problem,” Ortega said.
The zoo waits to name the hatchlings until they are about three years old. “They can have all kinds of personalities. So we wait until we can see what their personality is like to give them a name,” Ortega said. “We mark them with acrylic paint to keep track of them before that.”
A fully grown female Galápagos tortoise can weigh anywhere from 300 to 500 pounds, and a male can weigh 500 to 800 pounds. Ortega calls them “gentle giants.” “They sleep and eat all day long, and nothing is done in a hurry,” Ortega said.
The zoo has one male and five females in its adult exhibit. Two of the females (Houston and Myrtle) originate from the Galápagos Islands and were brought to the United States in 1929, Ortega said. “They weren’t hatchlings then either,” Ortega said.
In the wild, the mothers will leave after laying their eggs and burying them underground. One immediate danger is rodents digging up the nest and eating the babies before they hatch. The zoo raises the females because it helps the species survive. The hatchlings will normally spend about five months in the egg. There are currently 32 eggs in the incubator, Ortega said. “I enjoy working with them because they’re an endangered species. It’s pretty rewarding to me that we are able to incubate them, and it’s amazing to think that they’ll probably outlive my children and my grandchildren,” Ortega said.

Anglers were on the hunt for red snapper, a popular reef fish. As the Thunderbird came to a stop Friday in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, anglers prepped their fishing rods and themselves for what could be a good day of fishing.
The weather was right, the sun was out and the waves measuring about 2 to 4 feet high slapped the boat as it rocked back and forth. For those who didn’t have their sea legs, this part of the trip was a little hard to manage. Captain Murphy’s Fishing Tours is doing brisk business these days with amateur anglers as well as the well-versed fisherman. For people who love to fish for red snapper, they have only about another month to catch this highly prized fish.

Under federal regulations, the snapper fishing season began June 1 and ran for nine days for private recreational fishing. However, for hired charter boats, the time limit is 46 days. But this charter trip wasn’t limited to red snapper. Anglers were catching a multitude of deep-sea dwelling fish.  After everyone caught their snapper limit, they could catch anything in season, First Mate Roy Cagle said. Like all federally regulated recreational activities, there are limitations, especially on red snapper. The federal-water red snapper bag limit is two fish per person a day, with a 16-inch minimum. Cagle said there’s no point in keeping anything less than 20 inches.

At 7:30 a.m. on the dot, the Thunderbird set out for blue seas, heading about 25 miles out to a depth of 140 feet. The deeper the water, the better the catch, Cagle said. Because anglers have already picked state waters clean, that leaves the rest of the bigger snapper in federal waters, which is where the Thunderbird was headed.

“They’re untouched in federal waters so they have had the whole year to get big,” Cagle said. As soon as Captain Adam Ambriz dropped the anchor, Charlotte Beattie and Rebecca Anderson baited their hooks and dropped them down.
Both hoped to catch something — anything. “It’s going to be our dinner while we’re here,” Beattie said. Both women — Beattie from Austin and Anderson from Indiana — were on a short holiday and decided to seek some adventure.
“If I don’t catch anything, the experience is going to be worth it,” Beattie said. If guests caught something, they were encouraged to yell “fish on!”

Cagle, deckhand Landon Hardison and Ambriz all followed the yells and promptly helped the angler unhook their red snapper, which they then roped and hung on the side of the boat.

Visit www.captainmurphys.com for more info

Walking the beach on SPI can now lead you to an octopus, the American flag, and the tower of the rising sun all in one walk. Gorgeous lifeguard stands have sprung up out of nowhere. Organized by Jim Pigg, several local artist wanted to make an impact and pulled together to create one of a kind lifeguard chairs. Packed with visitors taking pictures, you’ll want to check this out the next time you’re on the island. “If I created a movement of artists, we could open Pandora’s box” stated Christina Salazar. Salazar is one of the local artists who gathered up a group of seven from McAllen down to the island.
Using paint supplied by Beach Rescue, these seven artists worked from sun up until dark, battling extreme heat and some uninvited wildlife to boot. Taking an entire week to complete, this project took a tremendous amount of time and sacrifice.
This was an incredible gift given to the community by several local artist; Christina Salazar and Terra Volz are from Laguna Vista, Sara Uribe is from Harlingen, Isaac Guerra, Jose Perez, Bruni Fox, and Sandra Urie are from McAllen, and Tiffany Anderson is from South Padre. While Ismael Salinas, Jr. is from Weslaco. Artist Sandra Urie, is for the most part a self-taught artist and a native of Argentina, now residing in McAllen.
Her style is quite diverse. Urie paints anywhere from abstract to photo-realism, and specializes in oils.
On this project, Urie worked in the heat, got sunburned, bitten by ants, and dealt with a smorgasbord of pungent aromas while working next to a trash dump. Needless to say, she was elated and honored to be invited to participate in such a worthwhile project and selflessly donate her time and talent to put smiles on beachgoers faces. “I worked on the Tower of the Rising Sun.” My inspiration mainly comes from nature, and in this case came from a heavy downpour the night prior to the commencement of this project.
After the rain, always comes the sun. Thus, the composition consists of water droplets, Koi fish for life and balance, and of course the rising sun. My friend and fellow artist Ismael Salinas, Jr. collaborated with me on this stand by incorporating Japanese style waves in keeping with the theme.” Stated Urie on her lifeguard stand.
Not wanting the chairs to be completed by just one artist, Christina “Wanted it to be diverse within the art. More artists make for a more dramatic impact” Starting at the Hilton and ending by Schlitterbahn, you will see an array of colors and imagination.
Not only are the chairs fun to take a picture with, they can also serve a huge purpose in the name of safety. With so many families gathering at the beach now. You can easily tell your kids that if you were to get separated from them to meet you at the octopus. Much better than a row of chairs that all look identical.
The Freedom Tower was created to give recognition. Completed before Memorial Day weekend Salazar and artist Tiffany Anderson wanted to give recognition to the military. They also wanted to pay respect to a dear friend of theirs who passed away serving the country.
Planning to re-paint the chairs annually, Salazar hopes it will be something the community will come out and observe. Next time you’re on the beach, stop and take a picture with your favorite chair.

The city council has plans to make the Island better than ever. Ideas range from bay access improvements, a parking garage, an amphitheater facility, and the purchase of land to the concept of creating a convention center annex. One way city officials plan to fund theses improvements is to raise the hotel occupancy tax by 2 percent. The council agreed to take that issue to voters by calling a special election in November. In order to do that, they must send a resolution to the Texas Comptrollers of Public Accounts Office that includes what projects will be completed using those funds. “It’s not easy to get things done and get the voter’s support,” said Barry Patel, SPI mayor.
If approved, the new tax dollars will work to finance the venue projects to help make the Island a world-class vacation destination. The current hotel occupancy tax rate is 14.5 percent and would increase to 16.5 percent if approved. That means a hotel room priced at $150 a night would be $171.75 per night under the current hotel tax. It would cost $174.75 with the 2-percent increase. Officials say the city will be providing more entertainment and attractions for visitors to stay longer on the Island with the tax increase. InterimCity Manager Darla Jones said communities such as San Antonio used the room tax increase approach to help gather funds to build the world-renowned River Walk. “We are identifying projects that we want to do and we have to submit those ideas to the state comptroller,” Jones said.
The state comptroller has to agree with the projects before the city can take the tax increase question to the voters. “They have to be projects that the residents and the property owners are going to support,” said Alita Bagley, SPI mayor pro-tem. “We have our work cut out for us during the next month and a half to get more detail to the voters so they know what they are supporting.”

By RAUL GARCIA | Staff writer