Preserving history can be difficult. After 5 months without a formal home the South Padre Island museum hosts its displays at the visitor’s center. Steve Hathcock from the South Padre Historical Commission says, “Initially we had formed a museum foundation in 2008. Our purpose was to at some point in the future build a museum. But while we were waiting to acquire a building, we went ahead and started with our displays.”
Those displays sat in the city’s convention center for some time. Eventually, changes to the convention center forced the museum displays into storage for almost 5 months. After some deliberation, the city of South Padre Island designated the Visitor’s Center as the home for the museum. “People any place on the island are going to go past us and see the museum here. We couldn’t have asked for a better location,” says Hathcock. Although the museum is primarily made with modular displays, each section tells a unique story. From the early 1900 to mid century treasures, the island has a rich history to tell. “People aren’t aware that south padre island came [really] close to being selected as a place to test the atomic bomb,” says Hathcock.
The museum is open today for public viewing. The space is currently shared, but architects are said to be working on repurposing the entire building. “The intention is to educate people about our island and South Texas history,” says Hathcock. Although it’s still a visitor’s center, the plan is to make this a standalone museum in the upcoming years. Other organizations currently using the visitor’s center may also be relocated in the future.
-By Alfredo Cuadros
Parking and safety issues related to White Sands Street dominated the discussions at the Aug 17 South Padre Island City Council meeting.
SPI Mayor Berry Patel put forth an agenda item to approve the first reading of Ordinance 16-17, establishing a no parking zone on the south side of White Sands Street east of padre Boulevard. Patel cited previous discussions with residents of the Tiki Condominiums in which concerns were voiced about the parking situation on that street. “We need to come to some kind of plan to make that street indeed a good beach access,” stated Patel.
Stormy Wall, Island resident and General Manager of the Tiki, spoke on behalf of the condominiums owners. He described the issues faced by residents there each weekend. “It’s turned into a parking lot from beach to boulevard,” stated Wall. He emphasized that the street is used by residents and guests of the 144 Tiki Condominiums, as well as the guests at the Holiday Inn, as their access to walk to the beach, creating a dangerous situation with families carrying beach supplies, with children in tow, having to navigate down the middle of the street, through the sea of cars trying to park on the street.
Wall went on to describe the parking problems his guests and owners encounter. “I tow people on my side of the street every weekend because I have limited parking for my guests and owners and they get bumped out of their parking spots by people going to the beach.” Additionally, several White Sands Street residents stepped forward to voice their concerns to Council to reiterate the dangerous situation that exists there to related to parking, traffic, and problems created by beach goers. The Council responded to their call for action by proving the first reading of the ordinance establishing the no parking zone on the south side of White Sands Street.
In a spate agenda item related to White Sands Street, Council approved a motion to direct City staff to come up with a conceptual drawing and estimates for engineering for making improvements to White Sands Street by adding landscaping and a wide walking /bike lane on the south side of the street. “I think it’s a good idea to have an organized way where people can actually walk to the beach,” stated Patel. He mentioned adding a walking path, a shower, and a gate restricting vehicle access to the beach at that location. He further stated that the plan would need to please the Shoreline Task Force as well as property owners on White Sands.
Next up on the agenda, Mayor Patel initiated public hearings to discuss the proposed 2016/2017 Fiscal Year Budget, the proposed 2016-2017 Property Tax rate, and the proposed 2016-2017 Capital Improvement Plan for the City of South Padre Island. No one stepped forward to speak for or against the proposals and the hearings were closed.
Council Member Dennis Stahl brought forth an agenda item that included presentation, discussion, and action on the South Padre Island Museum renovation, which is currently housed at the SPI Visitor Center. Dennis Franke, chair of the SPI Museum Board made a presentation of the proposed transformation of the current Visitor Center location into the new SPI Museum. “I searched the Texas coast and I found what I considered the most handsome light station, and we fashioned the museum after that,” Franke said. “We want to create something that is historical, that has meaning, that I think will be very attractive, and it will be a special piece of architecture for the Island.” The Council agreed and approved the plan.
Council also discussed and approved the content, material, and location of a permanent sign to be placed at the John L. Tompkins Park. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) requires the City to post such a sign in recognition of the TPWD and its funding program upon completion of the first phase of park construction. The members opted for a copper sign to be placed on a pole near the park entrance.
During the presentations and proclamations portion of the meeting, Mayor Patel recognized Victor Baldivinos, City of SPI Environmental Health Director. Patel proclaimed the month of September 2016 in the city of SPI as National Food Safety Month and urged all citizens to promote safe food handling by practicing food safety both now and throughout the year.
In further action, the Council voted to approve an allocation of Gulf Boulevard Tax Note proceeds in the amount of $64,538 for a final payment of the Gulf Boulevard Phase III renovation. They also voted to approve payment to Peter A. Ravella Consulting in the amount of $4,950 to work on and submit grants on behalf of the Friends of RGV reef for offshore reef placement. They further moved that the City’s lobbyists, Clint Smith of Hill Co. Partners begin lobbying for aid in the Reef Restore Grant application process.
In its final agenda item, the Council approved the nomination of Pat Rasmussen to the SPI Parks, Recreation, and Beautification Committee.
– Kevin Rich
AUGUST 24, 2016
No one ever plans to get into a car accident, much less a deadly one. But when a car crash happens at the Queen Isabella Causeway it shakes a community who thrives on tourism economy. Last week, the Queen Isabella Causeway closed some of its lanes for almost 5 consecutive hours. The cause was an incident that involved one fatality. As a result traffic was halted in both South Padre Island and Port Isabel. Some say that even though it was one incident, it shook the entire community.
Police Chief Wally Gonzales says, “The fatality makes it a little harder to open up the bridge right away. It has to be done much more accurate.” While preliminary investigations were ongoing on the bridge, many waited for hours just to move a few blocks. Some locals could not make it through their own city.
Chief Gonzales, “When I came in, I said, you guys go ahead and go work traffic around. Make sure the intersections are open for people in our community to be able to move around.” After speaking to some business owners, most say the day of the incident was the worst for sales that week. For some it was even harder to make it to work.
Business owner Rubi Vasquez said one couldn’t find a place to go to or from. It was very chaotic. Locals tell me that the causeway closes frequently: for charity marathons, holidays, and even accidents. There is plans to bring a second causeway to alleviate traffic in the future, but that is still years away if approved. There is so much traffic, I would like to see traffic officers on bicycles said Vasquez.
Chief Gonzales added, “What I would like to tell all the motorist that come down is to take it easy on the bridge. Most accidents are caused by people that are driving at high velocities. You’re going to get there! The island is not going to go anywhere.” Port Isabel Police says all officers were on duty during this accident. Business owners near the Port Isabel Light House say closures to the causeway are something they have gotten used to.
By Alfredo Cuadros
AUGUST 23, 2016
THE BROWNSVILLE HERALD
SpaceX plans to install two massive ground station antennas at Boca Chica beach for the purpose of tracking manned space flights, though not flights from Boca Chica, at least not yet. The 86-ton antennas, which the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company acquired from NASA’s KennedySpaceCenter at Cape Canaveral, will be used to track flights of the crewed version of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station, probably in 2017.
The company already has made multiple cargo runs between Earth and ISS using its uncrewed Dragon capsules, driven into space by the company’s Falcon 9 rockets. In 2012, SpaceX became the first private company to rendezvous with ISS.
SpaceX and Boeing both have contracts to fly crews to ISS. Since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, NASA has depended on Russian Soyuz flights to get astronauts to ISS. As one of the contract’s “milestones,” NASA requires SpaceX to track the flights from ground stations at various locations, thus the Boca Chica antennas. The company broke ground on a launch site at Boca Chica in September 2014 with the company’s CEO and chief designer and then-governor Rick Perry on hand. SpaceX plans 12 launches per year from the site once it’s complete.
The company had planned the first launch from Boca Chica for 2016, though it discovered the site needed to be stabilized, which involved trucking in 310,000 cubic yards of soil and has delayed construction. The revised schedule has the first Boca Chica launch taking place sometime in 2018. SpaceX said the first ground station antenna will arrive at Boca Chica via tractor-trailer in October. A thick concrete foundation will have to be poured first and allowed to cure for at least one month before the antenna is installed, the company said.
The antenna’s heavy hydraulics will be removed prior to shipping and replaced by electronics once at Boca Chica. According to the contract, SpaceX must have the first antenna installed before the end of the year and “qualified” (certified by NASA as being installed correctly) by spring, SpaceX said. No date has been set for shipment of the second antenna, the company said.
NASA spokeswoman Tabatha Thompson said SpaceX has been awarded two “post-certification” missions to ISS, which can proceed only after two successful test flights are completed. “The way the program works is we’ll have two test flights: one uncrewed — obviously that would come first — then crewed,” she said. Thompson said the crewed test flight will involve two astronauts, though she didn’t know how many would be traveling to ISS on the first actual mission. All flights are scheduled to take place in 2017, though Thompson said specific dates haven’t been set.
By STEVE CLARK | Staff Writer
Barry Patel continues to make moves within the Valley hotel industry. The Marriot he plans to develop on the Island would be even bigger than the Embassy Suites he just opened on Wednesday in McAllen. Patel said the Marriot would be complete with 250 rooms and a ballroom that would hold up to 2,000 people.
“We are continuing our growth with an even bigger hotel on South Padre Island,” Patel said. He said the only thing holding up the project is approval of the building permits from the city. Patel, mayor of South Padre Island, also owns the Hilton Gardens and La Quinta hotels on the Island. Patel has also developed and sold many of the La Copa hotels in the Valley.
The Embassy Suites is a 150-room, full-service hotel. He said it the first-full service hotel that has been built in the Valley in the past 20 years or more. It’s a six-story hotel built with a $20 million price tag and paid for without any taxpayer incentives, he said.
Patel said the ribbon-cutting was exciting. McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, the Valley Partnership and McAllen Chamber were also at the ribbon-cutting. “It’s exciting to see all those individuals,” Patel said.
Cameron County officials plan to move forward with upgrades to county parks along the beaches. Included in the master plan is the creation of a multimillion dollar amphitheater to have tourist view Space X launches. We asked, what is being done today?
Early this year Cameron County commissioner’s court approved 23 million dollars to improve coastal amenities along the gulf. In short, this means the parks along South Padre Island are getting improvements. County Parks Director Joe Vega says, “They’re much needed improvements. Our pavilions were built in the early nineties. We have restrooms that have been here since the mid to late 70’s. One of the first upgrades will be in beach access 5. Currently the pavilion is closed. The plan is to take it down and build 5 more pavilions in its place. Construction for this phase is said to start in the next few months.
“Along with the new pavilions that we’re going to build,” says Vega, “southWe’re going to build new restrooms. We’re going to build some community ring stations, some new boardwalks to take you to the beach [and] we’re going to Another initiative that is part of the master plan is right here at Isla Park where an Amphitheater is planned ready for space x. The amphitheater be facing Boca Chica beach, and some of the neglected areas in Dolphin cove will likely be demolished. “This will be a great place to view the rocket launches. We would like to have musicals there, concerts and theater,” says Vega.
Tourist Eduardo Flores comments, “to actually see a rocket launch up and watch it on orbit is going to be interesting to watch. It’s basically watching history in the making.” The Amphitheater is not included in the 23 million dollar approval, but it is part of the overall plan for construction. All changes are said to be made with durable materials with the hopes they will last over 30 years.
“South Padre Island is a popular area. So having one here will bring revenue for the island,” says Flores. Along with improvements to county parks, Beach Access 4 is about to unveil a boardwalk. The boardwalk is said to help preserve the dunes and create easy access to the beach especially for handicapped individuals.
By Alfredo Cuadros
A dolphin well known to locals found itself tangled up in more than three pounds of fishing wire and gear. Early Monday morning, a group of experts teamed up to come to its rescue.
“It had a lot of fishing lines wrapped around its dorsal fin all the way to its flipper,” said Blair Mase, southeast regional coordinator for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, under the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Mase said because of the high risks involved with capturing a free-swimming wild dolphin, she contacted Sea World to help assist in the rescue.
A team of 30 worked together to help the dolphin get loose of fishing gear. “We needed to take action because if we didn’t, we felt that this animal would eventually expire from this entanglement,” Mase said.
Mase said all the fishing gear was making it hard for the dolphin to swim on its own.
By RAUL GARCIA | Staff Writer
A few months from now, the Island will host a weekend swimming contest for people young and old. “This event will be a great celebration of the sport of swimming and all the South Padre Island area has to offer,” said Lenny Krayzelburg, four-time Olympic gold medalist and CFO of Open Water Planet. “This is truly an event for all swimmers whether you are 9 or 89.”
The South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau and Open Water Planet, an open water event production company, have teamed up to host the first South Padre Island Open Water Festival, a swimming-based event, in the bay area Nov. 5-6.
The festival will feature a kids sprint, a one-mile race, a five-kilometer race and a military veterans event. “Hosting an event like this in South Padre Island is such a great opportunity to promote open water swimming and competitive swimming to a community,” said NBC Olympic commentator Rowdy Gaines, who will be emceeing the event. Gaines said the event is great for the sport of swimming.
For more information visit http://www.openwaterplanet.com/spiopenwaterfestival
By RAUL GARCIA Staff Writer
Brownsville and partners have been awarded a highly competitive, $10 million federal grant to improve public transit and create a pedestrian/bicycle path along the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge. The TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will go toward a $23.8 million “Connecting Communities” project. TIGER stands for “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery,” a DOT program that awards federal money to improve roads, transit, cargo rail, hike-and-bike and maritime infrastructure.
The city of Brownsville’s application was one of 40 accepted out of 585 applicants around the country. The total amount of TIGER grant funding available this year was $500 million, while the program received $9.3 billion in requests, according to DOT.Brownsville was the only community in Texas to receive a TIGER grant this year, the eighth year of the program.
The Connecting Communities project has two main components, the first of which involves improvements to Brownsville Metro, the city’s bus system, and METRO Connect, which links the upper and lower Rio Grande Valley. The second component of Connecting Communities involves widening the 2.4-mile-long Queen Isabella causeway by four feet, which will allow for a 14-foot dedicated, barrier-protected bike and pedestrian lane. It will be one of the longest bridge hike-and-bike facilities in the United States and the first of its kind in Texas, according to the DOT. Marina Zolezzi, the city’s director of Grant Management and Community Development, said construction on the causeway must begin by September 2019 and be complete by 2024.
Her office wrote the Connecting Communities TIGER application with Brownsville Metro and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, in collaboration with application partners the city of McAllen, the city of Port Isabel, the city of South Padre Island, Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, Cameron County and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Zolezzi said the team was overjoyed to hear the application had been accepted. “We were shocked and excited,” she said. “This is definitely going to transform infrastructure in the community and increase the ladders of opportunity and quality of life. This is the product of team collaboration, a lot of partnerships, everyone coming together.”
The city of Brownsville has committed $4.2 million and various local partners have committed $6.9 million to help pay for the work, Zolezzi said. Meanwhile, she thinks the $10 million in TIGER funds may be a first for the city.
“To our knowledge, we believe it’s the biggest grant that the city has received,” Zolezzi said.
Brownsville City Commissioner Rose M.Z. Gowen described the award as a “stunning accomplishment” because of what it will mean for Brownsville Metro, but also because it will result in an “unprecedented bicycle and pedestrian protected connection between Port Isabel and South Padre Island .” “It was a pleasure to work with our partners on this one-of-a-kind initiative,” she said.
-By STEVE CLARK Staff Writer
Wind farm projects continue to proliferate in Cameron County and surrounding counties, which is good news for the Port of Brownsville, since it handles the wind turbine components that enter the Rio Grande Valley, which creates revenue.
One of the latest projects under construction is the San Roman Wind Farm by Spanish alternative energy developer Acciona Energy’s U.S. subsidiary. Vessels loaded with wind towers, nacelles, blades and cones connected with the project are steaming into the port at regular intervals.
The components are stored and eventually loaded onto specially equipped trailers and hauled via 18-wheeler to a site on private land between Bayview and the Laguna Madre.
Acciona USA says the 93-mewatt project will consist of 31 wind turbines capable of generating enough electricity to power 30,000 homes. San Roman is scheduled to be online by the end of the year, according to the company, which owns seven other wind farms around the United States and more than 200 worldwide.
The port received the first Acciona components in late May. Each steel tower arrives in four sections that stand 287 feet tall when assembled. The nacelles, which house the generator, gear box and other components, can weigh as much a 140 tons apiece, according to the company.
The power produced by the project will be delivered to the electrical grid operated by AEP Texas. A substation and connections to the main transformer are already complete. Individual concrete pads for the individual turbines have been poured and the turbines themselves are being erected. It’s Acciona’s first wind farm in Texas, though it’s hardly the state’s first wind farm.
In the Valley, Cameron Wind, Duke Energy and E.ON Climate and Renewables all have giant rotors spinning, a dense forest of turbines highly visible from I-69E north of Brownsville.
West Texas is bristling with wind towers as well, and for a good reason: Texas has a ton of wind.
BY STEVE CLARK | STAFF WRITER