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SEPTEMBER 30, 2016


Scores of volunteers showed up bright and early last Saturday morning at Jim’s Pier on South Padre Island to participate in the city’s launching of a bayside beach cleanup. Susan Dalton, chairperson of the city committee Keep SPI Beautiful, conducted a safety briefing before sending people out on foot, in kayaks, and boats to pick up debris and litter along the bay side of the Island.
Iris Horton, a resident at Sunset Condominiums, complimented the maintenance crew at her complex but still collected two bags of trash. “Around my building, our staff does a really good job cleaning, but some of the stuff I picked up was pretty old trash.” she commented.
Committee members Julie Berman and Kat Lillie were on hand to assist Dalton, handling out garbage grabbers, trash bags, and bottled water to the hard-working volunteers. Berman remarked on her reasons for joining the committee. “I have a passion for cleaning up our water ways, especially the neglected Laguna Madre,” noting that most beach cleanups tend to take place on the Gulf side of the Island.
Dalton spoke about the challenges in tackling a bayside cleanup, unlike the beach cleanups, it’s just harder. We’re trying to get out there – most of us paddle board, kayak, or fish – so we just want o see more activity on the bayside as far as cleanups. We’re hoping to start doing this bi-annually. We want to see more of the watercraft community get out there and help us do this, because we all have a vested interest in making it better.”
Dalton continued, saying “The really nice thing is the Keep Texas Waterways Clean organization and HEB supply us with all the stuff we need – the pickers, trash bags, gloves, sunscreen, water – all that is donated to us by a grant from HEB to KTB and KTWC. All we have to do is submit our event and let them know when and where and they send us boxes and boxes of everything we need. We have plenty of supplies for our next cleanup, and we’ve got signage,” she said.
Since this was the first time the City has tried hosting a bayside cleanup there were a couple of hiccups along the way. “The challenge I had this year was getting the word out, but that’s okay, because this was first-year event, and we’re still trying to learn from our mistakes and make sure we do this right and make it a wonderful event that people look forward to, so we’ll build on what we started,” Dalton said.
Susan noted that Bridgestone Tires is recycling any tires they recover during their efforts, and other businesses have offered to help: Parrot Eyes offered to volunteers launch their boats for free during the cleanup, “The businesses understand that we’re doing this for the community, because it’s a win-win situation for everybody.”
Dalton pointed out, “When you actually look at what brings tourists to the Island, a lot of it is environmental now, particularly with Sea Turtle Inc., the Birding Center, and our dolphins and turtles – these are the things that bring us into volunteering and coming up with ways we can contribute and attract more revenue to the Island. It’s mutually beneficial for everybody.”
Sha also spoke about other actions her committee has achieved, “The monofilament recycling bins, that’s something we’ve done that we’re proud of. We just want to do more for the Island and the environment because it means something to every one of us.”
Area resident Rachel Franceshi, along with her niece Camille and Keep SPI Beautiful committee member Alex Brotzman, worked in the areas of Palm, Corral, Venus, and Campeche streets, retrieving a tire and collecting three bags of trash. Rachel commented, “We started right now at 8 a.m. – we know people fish in these areas, so that’s where we concentrated our efforts. We picked up a lot of cans and cigarette butts, plastic bottles, iron rebar, straws and plastic bottle caps,” with Camille piping up saying, “and fish skeletons!” eliciting laughs from the trio.

By Pamela Cody

SEPTEMBER 30, 2016


Discussion regarding South Padre Island’s designated color palette for buildings dominated the SPI City Council meeting on Sept. 21. After lengthy discussion, Council approved motion to have the City’s Development Standards Review Task Force reexamine the Island’s designated color palette in the Form Based Code. SPI Development Director Dr. Sungman Kim provided a slide presentation showing the existing color palette adopted by the City in August of 2014. Balancing the rights of building owners to choose what color they want to paint their buildings, while promoting the use of colors that give the Island a tropical look represented the two sides of the debate.

“We actually widened the choices,” stated Dr. Kim referring to the 2014 amendment. He cited the fact that the City was getting many requests for variances related to building colors back then as a reason why it was addressed.

“We wanted businesses to have a lot of options as far as colors. We don’t want to restrict those colors, and yet being a coastal community we wanted, I believe, we wanted lighter coastal colors,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Alita Bagley. She further added that the amendment has allowed for dark colors of a business, as opposed to being limited use as accent colors.
“When it gets flipped around, and the accent color becomes the entire building, it looks a little less tropical and beachy,’ added Council Member Theresa Metty.
“The last time that we looked at this we had a workshop and I think it would be good to do that again if we’re going to change the color scheme and get some input from the community,” stated Council Member Alex Avalos. “We need the input of the people that we are going to be putting this on,” he argued.
The issue also raised as to why the Development Standards Review Task Force took no action and made no recommendation to Council after viewing Dr. Kim’s presentation regarding the color palette back in June. Kimberly Dollar responded on behalf of the Task Force. “It was brought to us as ’do we want to change the color palette?’ We were not asked to address value (for accent and body colors),” she explained. The issue will head back to the Task Force for further review.
In other action, council approved a motion to direct the Parks, Recreation, and Beautification Committee to work with the SPI Birding and Nature Center to administer the National Wildlife Federation Mayor’s Monarch Pledge. The pledge calls for cities and municipalities to commit to creating and restoring monarch butterfly habitats in their communities. Javier Gonzalez, naturalist at the Center, addressed council in support of the program. He stated that the monarch is one of the most iconic and symbolic species ibn nature and how it is important, now more than ever, to help protect their species.
“I feel that by signing the Monarch Pledge the City of SPI would be doing something very, very important,” said Gonzalez. He emphasized that the RGV serves as a major stopover in their migration. “In mid-October it’s spectacular sight out here on the dunes. You can see hundreds if not thousands of monarchs migrating through the coast,” he added. In another butterfly related item, council voted to approve a Beach-Dune permit for the construction of a gazebo structure for an Eagle Scout project in the SPI Butterfly Garden.
Council also voted to reject the lone submitted bid for the Queen Isabella Causeway boardwalk repairs, and to reissue the call for bids. In the agenda item background Shoreline Management Director Patrick Barineau stated, “the bid was determined to be too costly and Shoreline staff would like to work with the design engineers to generate a call for bids that will attract more proposals at a lower cost.”
In other action council approved the first reading of Ordinance No. 16-20 vacating and closing a portion of West Whiting Street and authorizing the transfer of the property to the abutting property owner. City Manager Darla Jones stated that the property appraised for $85,000. Later in the meeting, Jones also provided an update on the City’s customer service improvement initiative. She has appointed a Customer Service Committee of employees that meets monthly to address the issue. Said Jones, “We’re trying to impress upon our employees the need for improved internal and external customer service.”

By Kevin Rich

SEPTEMBER 29, 2016


A new year has started for the Laguna Madre Art League.  Artists and those “just interested in art” are invited to attend monthly meetings and events.  Members are treated to an art related program on the second Monday of each month at 6:00 p.m. at the Laguna Madre Art Gallery at 405 East Maxan Street, Port Isabel.  Annual events include participation in the Annual Christmas Art Show and Sale, Market Days Art Shows on the island, Art displays at the Port Isabel Library, and Day of the Dead Workshops.
The League raises money  throughout the year for arts education in the community.  This past year the League in association with the Laguna Madre Art Gallery and Port Isabel High School helped High school art students mount an art show at the Gallery and provided two scholarships for participating seniors to further their art education.  The League also coordinated an art show for Junior High students at the Port Isabel Museum and awarded prizes to outstanding students.  During the summer scholarships were provided for students to attend “The Fun Art Class,” taught by Christy Atkinson and Peggy Paris and “Clay Class,” taught by Carla DeFrance at Art Space on the island.  24 children attended these classes.
The membership of the organization is composed of community members who have an interest in art as well as accomplished artists.  A number of members won ribbons at the2016 International Art Show at the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art.  Carol Plumb won a 2nd place in oil.  Shirley Hawthorne won a 1st place in pastels.  Audrey Spiess won the Octavia Arenson Award.   And Marne Law won a 1st, 2nd, and Honorable Mention and the prestigious Mayor’s award.
If you are interested in attending an Art League meeting, come to the next meeting on October 10 at 6:00 p.m.  It will be at the Art Gallery at 405 E. Maxan St., in Port Isabel (across from the lighthouse).  Membership is $35.00 per year.   For more information contact League President Dianne Franklin at 956-433-5196.


SEPTEMBER 29, 2016


Neither storms or red tide could stop them this past weekend. More than 9,000 volunteers showed up to 30 different locations Saturday to remove 172,000 pounds of trash from 169 miles of Texas coastline.
The effort was part of the 30 th annual coast-wide Fall Adopt-A-Beach Cleanup by the Texas General Land office. Just days after, the numbers are in and they were good. “For the 2016 Fall Cleanup, volunteers braved rain and red tide in some areas in order to show their dedication to one of our state’s most treasured features – our beloved beaches,” Texas land commissioner George P. Bush said. “Thank you Adopt-A-Beach volunteers for 30 years of keeping Texas’ coastline clean.”
Since 1985, more than 504,000 volunteers have removed 9,300 tons, or more than 18.76 million pounds of trash from the beaches. Cigarette butts beer cans and plastic bags are some of the most common items found, but there certainly always are some weird items.
The cleanups are held three times a year and its success is due mostly to the work of volunteers. The next cleanup is the South Padre Winter Texan event is set for Feb. 10.

Can you believe what they found?
Here are some of the strange items found on Texas beaches Saturday.
• Air mattresses
• Dog bed
• Pacifier
• Bowling ball
• Drive shaft
• Plastic vampire teeth
• Brick
• Drug paraphernalia
• Shoes
• Broken TV
• Electrocardiogram (EKG) pads
• Shotgun shells
• Bundle of wire
• Fireworks
• Small bag of Xanax pills
• Car battery
• Folding chairs
• Tire with rim
• Car seat
• Four 55 gallon drums
• Toilet
• Car tire
• Glass vial with cattle antibiotic still inside
• Toothbrush
• Carpet
• Large refrigerator
• Two baby strollers
• Child’s car seat
• Large rope
• Water heater
• Coconut
• Money
• Windshield wiper blades
• Cuban cigar
• Old PC monitor
Who showed up Saturday?
SouthPadre IslandCameronCounty – 1,178 volunteers collected 4.78 tons of garbage
South Padre Island city beaches – 540 volunteers collected 1,183 pounds of garbage.
Boca Chica beach – 430 volunteers collected 2.76 tons of garbage.

SEPTEMBER 28, 2016


SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch site may some day be a departure point for flights to Mars, according to the company’s founder, Elon Musk, in a presentation Tuesday at the International Aeronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. Musk’s talk, which was streamed live online, laid out highly technical, detailed plans for development of a space vehicle capable of getting humans to the red planet in sufficient numbers to colonize it, build a city and create a self-sustaining civilization. His primary goal, and the sole reason he’s busy accumulating assets, is to do the best thing Musk can think of for humankind: make it an interplanetary species in order to ensure its survival, he said.
“What I really want to achieve here is to make Mars seem possible, something we can do in our lifetimes,” Musk said.
One of the biggest obstacles is making the per-passenger cost of a trip relatively affordable, he said. With the traditional approach that sent Apollo astronauts to the moon, a single ticket to Mars would cost about $10 billion, Musk said. “That is a steep price to pay for a ticket,” he said. “You can’t create a self-sustaining civilization if it’s $10 billion per person.” Musk said making the cost manageable means reducing it by 5 million percent, a goal he conceded may seem “virtually impossible,” though he thinks it’s achievable through cost-saving measures such as “full reusability” of spacecraft and the booster rockets that propel them into orbit; refueling in orbit, and production of rocket propellant on Mars.
Musk said the red planet has the necessary ingredients to produce cryogenic methane to power the Raptor engines that would allow the spacecraft, once on Mars, to blast off again for Earth. “Ultimately I suspect that you’d see Mars transit times as little as 30 days in the more distant future,” he said. “That’s fairly manageable, considering in the old days people used to routinely take sailing voyages of six months or more.”


SEPTEMBER 26, 2016


Rather than sleeping in on their Saturday morning, more than 1,000 volunteers of all ages cleaned up various kinds of trash and items littering the beautiful South Padre Island. “It’s really dirty. It’s really dirty, but there’s a lot of … you see a lot of dead fish and a lot of dead eels. They’re really big also,” said volunteer Layla Prado.

Volunteers brought their hats and sunglasses, picked up a trash bag, and went to work. “Our beach is one of the most beautiful, natural resources that we have in our backyard, especially here in the Rio Grande Valley. And it’s important that, you know, we have volunteers out there to keep our beaches clean,” said Adopt-A-Beach Coordinator Joe Vega. South Padre Island isn’t the only coastline taking part in the cleanup. Thirty beach sites across the state also do their part to make beaches a place residents and tourists alike could enjoy. Vega says beachgoers can make a big difference just by doing the smallest act.

“Pack a trash bag with them and once they finish their picnic, or once they finish their beach day, just pick up your trash and just take it and dispose of it in our trash cans that we have here on the beach,” he said. The Adopt-A-Beach program is the most successful all-volunteer effort in the nation, according to the Texas General Land Office. In the past 25 years, more than 400,000 volunteers have picked up nearly 8,000 tons of trash from the Texas Gulf Coast.


SEPTEMBER 26, 2016


It’s safe to say almost everyone loves monarch butterflies. So, now they are going to get their own safe space on the Island. City leaders have agreed to create a habitat for monarch butterflies so they have a protected place to stop during their 3,000-mile journey. Millions of monarch butterflies make their way to central Mexico for the winter, traveling from the Rockies. At a recent City Council meeting, Island officials agreed to create a lush and vibrant monarch butterfly habitat — a goal that the South Padre Island City Council had in mind.
The proposed site of the habitat is the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. The council approved signing the National Wildlife Federation Mayor’s Monarch Pledge.
The National Wildlife Federation is a voice for wildlife, dedicated to protecting wildlife and habitat and inspiring future generations of conservationists. “I’m looking forward to the projects that we will do and to help increase awareness at the homeowner and business level about monarch butterflies,” SPI Councilwoman Theresa Metty said. The Mayor’s Monarch Pledge consists of 25 possible action items, of which the mayor and local government chief executives, who have taken the pledge, must commit to at least three within one year. With the absence of Mayor Barry Patel from Wednesday’s meeting, the signing of the pledge will be held at a later date.
One pledge item that was discussed during the meeting was the possible hosting of a Monarch Festival in 2017. Communities and nature centers from around the Rio Grande Valley would be invited to participate in an effort to show solidarity for the conservation of the monarch butterfly. Along with the signing of the National Wildlife Federation Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, the City Council approved a Beach-Dune permit for the construction of a gazebo for an Eagle Scout project in the Butterfly Garden.
The construction of the gazebo will launch the restoration of the city’s Butterfly Garden, located at 4350 Gulf Boulevard. “I have a home here and I have a business here and I’m going to look for what I can do to plant some things that will attract the monarch,” Metty said. “It’s not that people don’t care, it’s just that they don’t know.” There are two butterfly gardens on the Island. One is off Gulf Boulevard and the other is located at the nature center.
“We all know that the monarch is one of the most iconic, symbolic species in nature,” said Javier Gonzalez, SPI Birding and Nature Center naturalist. “It’s often used as an example in learning in our schools, so it’s important to keep conserving the species, more now than ever, since in recent years they have been declining in numbers.”
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the monarch population has been on the decline because of extreme weather conditions in over-wintering and breeding grounds and the decline in milkweed and nectar-producing plant availability in the Midwestern monarch breeding grounds. “I feel that by signing the Monarch Pledge, the city of South Padre Island will be doing something very important,” Gonzalez said.

By RAUL GARCIA Staff Writer

SEPTEMBER 23, 2016


The City of South Padre Island Economic Development Corporation (EDC) heard a presentation on the state of the Island economy as well as a report by the Friends of RGV Reef in its Sept. 20 meeting.
Dr. Mostafa Malki with Aaron Economic Consulting presented a report entitled “City of South Padre Island Economic Index, September 2016.” In his opening remarks he stated, “I’m glad to report that the Island is doing fine even though the economy of Texas is slowing down. It’s not tanking, but it’s slowing down because of low oil prices and a very strong dollar relative to our big trading partner (Mexico).”
He further stated that Mexico is feeling the crunch of this big drop in the value of the peso due in large part to the increase in the strength of the U.S. dollar. He also cited the fact that the peso is the most widely traded currency of the emerging countries, and speculators and investors tend to use it to hedge their bets as a contributing factor to the devaluation. The report further states that the appreciation of the U.S. dollar negatively impacts Texas and U.S. exports as well as Mexican visitors to the U.S.
According to the report, while the Leading Economic Indices for Texas shows a downward trend for the last few months, the forecast for the state is to increase by 1.6 percent. The forecast for growth in the U.S. is 1.4 percent in 2016 and 1.9 percent in Mexico in 2017. Mexico is expected to grow at 3 percent on 2016.
“Everything is pointing in the right direction for real estate,” said Malki. He cited increasing average home sales prices, an increase in the number of homes sold, increasing home sales dollar volume, and a decreasing number of months’ worth of inventory as indicators of the success.
He also stated local hotel occupancy tax revenues are expected to increase by 2.39 percent in 2016 and 2.33 percent in 2017.
Sales tax revenues are expected to increase by 2.62 percent in 2016, 2.55 percent in 2017, and 5.39 percent in 2018. As the peso recovers, bank deposits are expected to increase by 1.63 percent in 2016, 2.5 percent in 2017, and 3.76 percent in 2018. Finally, building permits are expected to increase by 3.21 percent in 2016, and 5.43 percent in 2017.
Malki concluded that local monthly disparities in the indicators will remain in the short run and the magnitude of those disparities will depend on the Island’s ability to attract off-peak seasons.
Gary Glick of Friends of RGV Reef provided the next presentation. “RGV Reef (has) just been born after 14 months of permitting,” proclaimed Glick. The cost of permitting was approximately $100,000. The location, 13 miles north of the SPI jetties, is close enough for relatively small bay boats to make the trip most of the time. Another unique feature, according to Glick is the size of the reef for which they have approved – 1,650 acres is by far larger than any other reef project in Texas. The key concept behind the project is creating a low profile artificial reef suitable for growing fish. The group plans to deploy 30,000 cinder blocks this fall over a 50-acre site. Glick asked the EDC to consider helping to fund the project.
Next on the agenda was public hearing on EDC projects including the skate park, Sand Dollars for Success Grant Program, and the Design Façade Improvement Grant Program. EDC President Joanne Williams opened the public hearing by calling for anyone who wished to speak for or against any of the programs. No one present wished to speak for or against and the hearings were closed.
In her activity report, EDC Director Darla Lapreye stated that they have four applicants for the Sand Dollars for Success program and about 15 applicants for the Kauffman Entrepreneurship program. She also announced that the ribbon cutting ceremony for John L. Tompkins Park was scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 10 a.m.
In its final agenda item, the EDC went into executive session to discuss the Executive Director’s Performance Improvement Plan.

-Pamela Cody

Rio Grande LNG is moving forward with a proposal to build a liquefied natural gas export terminal in deep South Texas, company officials said, despite losing a tax abatement vote that could have made the project more attractive to investors. Point Isabel Independent School District board members on Tuesday evening rejected the company’s application for a 10-year tax abatement in a 5-2 decision. James Markham-Hill — a spokesman for Rio Grande LNG’s parent company, NextDecade LLC — said the company was disappointed by the vote but is proceeding with its application before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission while evaluating its options. “The school district lost out on millions of dollars that it otherwise would have received,” Markham-Hill said.

As a “property-rich” school district whose territory includes luxury condos and hotels on South Padre Island, Point Isabel ISD is a so-called “Robin Hood” district that under Texas state law must share its wealth with school districts that are property poor. Markham-Hill said the tax abatement agreement would have limited the school district’s property tax on Rio Grande LNG’s land for 10 years and kept more money in Point Isabel ISD’s coffers due to state laws that authorize local incentives for economic development on major projects.

“From a financial perspective, if the project moves forward, they would have been much better off with their agreement,” Markham-Hill said. The proposed Rio Grande LNG export terminal and two similar projects by Annova LNG and Texas LNG all face stiff opposition from environmentalists, fishermen, shrimpers and community groups. But they have the support of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other allies.

One of the the key opponents to the projects is the Sierra Club-supported environmental group Save RGV from LNG, which on its Facebook page touted the school board’s vote as a victory. With the cities of South Padre Island and Port Isabel publicly against the projects and dozens of anti-LNG activists regularly packing its meetings, the Point Isabel ISD board voted down a similar tax abatement application for Annova LNG in September. “Strategically, they need to get these types of tax breaks to secure funding,” Save RGV from LNG organizer Stefanie Herweck told the Business Journal following the Annova LNG vote.

During the Tuesday evening vote for the Rio Grande LNG tax abatement application, only school board members Diane O’Leary and Mickey Furcron voted in the project’s favor.

Like the other two terminals proposed for the Port of Brownsville, Rio Grande LNG is requesting permission to take natural gas extracted in the Eagle Ford Shale region south of San Antonio, liquefy it and export it to overseas customers. The company did receive some good news last month when the U.S. Department of Energy issued an order authorizing Rio Grande LNG to export natural gas to free-trade agreement nations.


SEPTEMBER 23, 2016


Everyone wants to walk along and relax at a clean beach. Nobody wants to see water bottles, fast food bags, paper, beer cans and plastic baggies among other items laying in the beautiful, soft white sand along the coastline of Texas.

That’s one reason volunteers will be headed to 30 beach sites all around the Texas coast, including South Padre Island on Saturday to help pick up trash as part of the Adopt-A-Beach Fall Cleanup. “Sign up now to join forces with thousands of other Texans who care about the coast,” said Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush in a statement. “Marine debris kills wildlife and hurts tourism, but it’s a problem we can fix together. Come out and be a part of the solution on Saturday, Sept. 24.”

Called by the Texas General Land Office as the biggest all volunteer cleanup, there are two sites on the island and one at Boca Chica beach in which volunteers will be headed.
As of Thursday, the event was still on, but government officia s are keeping an eye on the red tide conditions. They will post any updates to social media, including Twitter and Facebook. The cleanup is typically held rain or shine, but may be cancelled if there are storm conditions or issues with red tide.
The Texas Adopt-A-Beach program started in the fall of 1986 when 2,800 volunteers picked up 124 tons of trash. Since that first year, nearly 500,000 volunteers have removed 9,200 tons of trash from Texas beaches.

-Raul Garcia