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After more than two years of planning for a new terminal building at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport, officials gathered at the airport for a groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning. On hand were officials from the Federal Aviation Administration, the state and the city, including members of the airport advisory board.
In fiscal year 2015, the project received a $1.2 million grant from the FAA for terminal design. Brownsville Airport Director Bryant Walker said the FAA’s total contribution ultimately will be about $6 million. The total cost of the project is estimated at $27 million to $30 million.
Walker said the city likely will issue certificate-of-obligation bonds to cover the rest of the cost, and hopes to partner with entities such as the Brownsville Economic Development Council and Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, and possibly the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation, to service the bonds, he said.
“In addition to that, I’m personally going to other federal agencies such as (Customs and Border Protection) and (the Transportation Security Administration), and we expect that we’ll get several million in contributions for various projects,” Walker said. “They’re very specific about what they’ll participate in, and we’re very confident that we can secure additional funding through those agencies.” As for the additional $5 million in FAA money, the agency has committed to providing the funds when they’re needed, he said.
“We don’t have a tentative allocation and we don’t have an award letter, but we have submitted the project,” Walker said. “It’s been approved, and we have the commitment of the funds. What that means is … they’ve programmed the funding in the timeline that we’re going to be doing our construction.”

Steve Clark

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has released audio of the public meeting held last Tuesday with Texas LNG where they received questions and comments from residents concerning the necessary air-quality permitting application at the state level.
State Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, requested the meeting after being lobbied by constituents to do so, according to Oliveira, who was in attendance.
Activists representing Save RGV from LNG and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club held a rally and press conference prior to the meeting at WashingtonPark.
The meeting was composed of two parts: an informal question and answer period and a formal on-the-record period wherein comments and questions made will be responded to by the TCEQ in a comprehensive document titled Executive Director’s Response to Comments.
Only the formal, on-the-record portion of the meeting was released by TCEQ.
Below are questions from the activists and responses from the TCEQ panel composed of technical reviewer Joel Klumpp, environmental lawyer Sierra Redding, representative from the Public Interest Council Garrett Arthur and Texas LNG Project Manager David Blessner.
Note that the questions were edited for brevity.
Stephanie Herwick, Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club: Given the fact that the three [Texas LNG] projects are all within two or three miles of each other … is a cumulative-impact study … going to be done?
Klumpp: She was right. This project is the first one to come in. We also received a second application. So that was the point where we did the air-quality monitoring for this project. We did have the company take into consideration the second project.
Unfortunately, the ANOVA project hasn’t come in to TCEQ so we don’t have a way to verify those emissions. So that third project has not been evaluated yet but the two that we do have in-house so far, they have both cumulatively been evaluated in the modeling process to be complete.
Scott Nicol: These facilities are going to have a number of schools … down the wind from – the way the wind generally blows. When you did this modeling, do you set up monitors at the site at the schools or guestimating what the current baseline is?
TCEQ Representative: So, we don’t set up the monitors. What goes into the model is a meteorological data and that goes into the data. And the model looks for worst-case meteorological conditions that can occur and the model means it spits out numbers based on receptors that are around. And that’s how it’s identified.
Nicol asked if new monitors would be installed on site, to which the local TCEQ representative from Harlingen responded that it would be left up to the facilities to report their emissions. Nicol likened this practice to speeding and reporting it a week later, so as to imply a lack of accountability. He was told by Klumpp, after six seconds of silence, to state his comment during the on-the-record moment.
On-the-record statements were made by local residents. Tony Garcia, a Vietnam Veteran recalled arriving in Brownsville after his deployment only to find no employment.
He further mentioned his two sons who having graduated with an electrical engineering degree from Texas A&M—Kingsville, in one case, and a Master’s degree from the same institution, who now live in San Antonio.
Garcia feels Brownsville is losing a lot of talent due to there being no local industry.
Other residents like Rick Teeter from Laguna Madre who cited the impediment of the wildlife corridor near his home, as well as residents from the surrounding area not being represented due to non-recognition within the Brownsville Navigation District, which he called “misnomer.”
The TCEQ is still receiving comments from the public until October 24 to be considered in its final decision three to four months from now, according to TCEQ.
Links: To listen, log onto “public meeting.”
To leave comment: http://www14.tceq.texas.gov/epic/eComment/

By Jonathan Salinas | Staff Writer

Offering our mid-west visitors a great vacation package deal!

Always a Minnesota favorite, Sun Country has been recognized for top-notch service provided to passengers. Sun Country is passionate about safely and effectively helping people connect with each other.
Sun Country will provide seasonal nonstop service:
November 10, 2016 thru April 23, 2017
Sunday, Tuesdays and Thursdays
Minneapolis / St. Paul  to Harlingen / South Padre Island


OCTOBER 15, 2016


Proposed utility poles, venue tax discussion, beach nourishment, and introducing a new city manager were the highlights of the South Padre Island City Council Meeting held on Oct. 5.
Discussion to clarify and explain project options listed in the venue tax proposition was on the agenda. Mayor Patel stated that early voting starts on Oct. 24 and ends on Nov. 4.
He also stated that Hotel Occupancy Tax is currently at 14.5 percent. If approved, it will increase to 16.5 percent. “The funds will only be generated by overnight visitors and will be invested  solely on South Padre Island,” clarified the Mayor. “This election does not affect property tax, sales tax, or the general fund,” he added.
Kimberly Dollar of POWC stepped to the podium to address the venue tax issue. She explained there are two venue taxes on the ballot. One is on the City’s ballot, the other is for Cameron County. There is only 2.5 percent to be had before reaching the state’s maximum allotted tax, and both of these propositions are asking for two percent. “So what that means to you is they both cannot get it – there’s not enough money to go around,” Dollar said.
“Downstairs on the first floor of City Hall is where you can vote for the SPI venue tax. It’s the only place you can vote for the SPI venue tax. If you are upstairs or any other place, and you’re casting a ballot for the President of the United States in a national ballot, and you see the word venue tax on the ballot, that is for the county,” she said.

– Kevin Rich

Texas Game Wardens, along with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security, helped intercept a drug shipment along a popular stretch of surf on South Padre Island early Thursday morning.
The agencies seized 730 pounds of marijuana and arrested six individuals on drug trafficking charges.
The seizure occurred around 4:30 a.m. Thursday. Game wardens assigned to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Marine Tactical Operations Group received notification that a vessel was traveling northbound from Mexico and made landfall on South Padre Island, TPWD said in a press release.
The team immediately responded to the call and located a vehicle parked in the surf near the hotel district of the Island. The vehicle was backed up to the water with a vessel known as a “lancha” behind it in the surf, the press release stated.
The lancha fled the scene, and the driver of the vehicle was immediately taken into custody. Game wardens and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agents with the Office of Air Marine seized 17 bundles of marijuana from the vehicle and the surrounding beach area.
Agents with the Office of Air Marine then pursued the southbound lancha until it capsized approximately 4 miles south of the landing location. Five individuals aboard the lancha were taken into custody, and the vessel and additional bundles of marijuana were recovered and seized along with the vehicle, according to the release

The money is up, but traffic is down. The impact of Cameron County’s decision to hike daily vehicle passes to its coastal parks from $5 to $10 is becoming clearer. For the first six months of the year, which is the extent of county records available at this time, the county has pocketed an additional $1 million in entrance fees over the same period in 2015.

After a surprising first quarter of this year following the fee hike, traffic at all the county’s coastal parks — Isla Blanca, Andy Bowie, Beach Access 5-6 and Adolph Thomae Jr. — showed sharp increases in traffic, from 37 percent at Thomae to 41 percent at Isla Blanca.

But in year-over-year numbers for the second quarter of 2016, the number of vehicles entering the county’s coastal parks has tanked, with Isla Blanca down 21 percent, Andy Bowie down 18 percent, Beach Access 5-6 down 15 percent and Thomae down 1.5 percent.

“We are confident that over the course of the next few years we will continue to see record numbers of traffic and visitors to South Padre Island and our coastal parks,” County Parks Director Joe E. Vega said via email. “It is a premier destination and the jewel of the Texas Gulf Coast, so we are not concerned at all with people coming to enjoy this gem.
“The numbers may not be indicative of the amount of people coming to enjoy our beaches but we monitor the flow of traffic and people at all our entrances which leads us to conclude that people will keep enjoying our beachside amenities,” Vega added.

County officials have said the additional revenues gained by doubling the daily vehicle fee would be used to enhance the county’s parks, and are confident park-goers eventually will feel the fee hike was worth it.
In fact, the county is in the process of installing a new boat launch with additional parking for trucks with trailers at Adolph Thomae, although most of the $725,000 is coming from grant money from the state.
But with vehicular traffic at the beach parks down significantly, presumably fewer people are going to the parks.

Experts on parks financing, like Dr. John Crompton, a faculty member at Texas A&M University’s Recreation, Parks and Tourism Sciences department, say it boils down to a philosophical issue.
The two principals which govern pricing for public parks are the benefit principle that those using the facility should pay for it, and the ability to pay principal, which holds nobody should be excluded from a public facility because they can’t afford it.

“The challenge is to reconcile those two underlying principles of public parks,” Crompton said Friday. “In this case, people from outside the county, you should charge them the maximum amount the market will bear because these people are paying no taxes in Cameron County.

“Our benefit principle says those who can afford to pay should … I’m assuming if the parks are breaking even, the taxes they’re using to foot that bill are property and sales taxes,” he said.
“Those are regressive taxes, and both of these taxes hurt poor people the most,” he added.

So in effect, he said, if you charge less to use parks you increase the percentage of sales and property taxes that need to be allocated to parks, thus having a disproportionate impact on poor residents of the county.
Crompton suggests the county provide a mechanism for those who may not be able to afford the daily parks fee, perhaps by granting parents with children who receive free meals or subsidized meals a break on the fee.

“My own theory is it should be a nominal rate of a couple of dollars or something, but not ten dollars,” Crompton said.

Crompton says he is sympathetic to the parks pricing dilemma county officials face, saying his time on the city council in College Station allowed him to experience how briskly the political winds can blow.
And pricing to allow parks to operate on a financially sound basis yet be available to all residents of a community is, he concedes, “a conundrum.”

For his part, parks director Vega feels the additional revenues for the county’s parks, and the improvements that will be possible because of those, will eventually be recognized by all who visit the county’s facilities.
“And as we improve our parks to have added attractions and nicer areas for families to spend their day, we will see an increase in park-goers,” Vega said.

OCTOBER 14, 2016


It’s up to the voters whether to leave $50 million on the table. Island voters will have to decide if the city or county will receive the Island’s venue tax revenue. Both the city and county have proposals for a venue tax on the Nov. 8 ballot, but only one can haul in the Island’s portion of the tax.
At a recent City Council meeting, Commissioner Dennis Stahl said the venue tax, if approved, will generate $50 million during the next 20 years, and it’s going to be very important where those $50 million are going. “It will give us an opportunity to invest in infrastructure and help grow this Island,” Stahl said.
The vote for the South Padre Island venue tax will take place during the regular early voting and general election set for a few weeks from now. The hotel occupancy tax is at 14.5 percent. The council would like to raise the HOT tax to 16.5 percent with voter approval.
However, citizens will have to cast their votes to raise the hotel occupancy tax by 2 percent for the venue tax for the Island on the first floor of city hall. The general election will be held on the second floor. Officials said because the money is raised on the Island, the people of the Island should decide how it will be spent.

-By RAUL GARCIA Staff Writer

OCTOBER 13, 2016


When considering locations for its upcoming 2016 Open Water Festival slated for November, Open Water Planet (OWP) took into account the water quality standards, eco tourism and beach-cleaning efforts of the possible host spots on its list.
The team discovered that South Padre Island, Texas met all of this race criteria in spades, while offering so much more to race goers and spectators alike. Not only is the locale a picturesque setting of sunshine and ocean, but the supportive sporting community will no doubt make racers feel they are truly a part of something special.
OWP Chief Operations Director, Casey Taker says, ‘What we look for when considering new locations are full safety support, clean water and great race venues for all of our different divisions. South Padre has all that. But getting to know the community and all the active lifestyle opportunities available here have really opened our eyes to this being something really special. With activities such as parasailing, fishing, kite boarding, paddle boarding, skydiving and flyboarding, as well as such a welcoming active community, it was a no-brainer for our event to take place on South Padre Island.
South Padre Island Business Development Director Michael Flores says of the exciting event, “I immediately jumped at the opportunity to bid for a 2016 Open Water Festival.  They have truly been a worthwhile return on investment and it is only year one!   Casey Taker and the OWP staff are immaculate professionals, are expert liaisons between attendees and their host city, and have a fiery passion for open water education and sustainment.
As a city event developer I can very comfortably say Open Water Planet is the perfect balance of fun, education and business generation.  We have thrilled at the option to host them for three back to back years and are very confident in OWP’s ability to grow attendance year after year.   South Padre Island plans to keep this event on our sunny and sandy shores at all costs!”
Come see what all the South Padre Island buzz is about by pursuing your next open water swimming challenge with the inaugural Open Water Festival slated for November 4th and 5th. Register at  www.SouthPadreSwim.com.
Courtesy of Open Water Planet, a SwimSwam Partner.

OCTOBER 11, 2016


The sounds of music, laughter and children squealing with delight mingling with the tantalizing smells of tacos, flautas, gorditas, sopes, pozole and empanadas was the scene that unfolded in Port Isabel’s Washington Park last Saturday evening, as the city held its 6th Annual Pachanga in the Park. The proceeds from this year’s event will benefit the upgrade of all the parks in Port Isabel.
By definition, a pachanga is a gathering of people to celebrate for any reason, a party or a fiesta originating from the Mexican culture in Texas, and this one met all the requirements. The free event featured a variety of vendors selling toys and trinkets, along with a delicious array of food booths selling every type of Mexican snack imaginable.
Children of all ages enjoyed the rides and games, and there were contests ranging from jalapeño eating and booth decorating, to dancing, grito, and best Mexican costume. Music was provided by Los Dominates, who roused the crowd with their renditions of both traditional and modern popular Mexican tunes.


Christy Atkinson climbed up her 6-foot pile of sand and started shoving some off the top with her feet. She was preparing to start sculpting the soft, tan sand into a Dia de los Muertos life-sized sculpture. “I love the day of the dead, it’s one of my favorite holidays,” Atkinson said. “So I’m doing a tribute piece for that.” Just as the old adage goes – a master doesn’t reveal her tricks. She wouldn’t say what she is planning to make. She wouldn’t even hint at it.
Is she creating an altar? A skeleton’s head? Or sand candle? “You’ll just have to come and experience it,” Atkinson said. “I tell you what it is so you get a mental image.”
Atkinson, 51, is one of 12 master sculptors who are making the life-sized sandcastles and artwork on the beach over the next few days at Clayton’s Beach Bar and Grill. It’s the annual and popular Sandcastle Days competition. “You get a big mountain of sand to work with so you have to do what you can with what you got,” Atkinson said. “If you run out, there is more under your feet to work with.”
The artists participating are some of the best from around the world. They have come from England, Bulgaria, Holland, Canada and the United States. Atkinson, from South Padre Island, is one of the locals in the competition. “We do our artwork on the beach, so people can come and enjoy it,” Atkinson said. “It’s something that a lot of families do year after year, they keep coming back.”
The weekend event is packed with entertainment and encourages people to participate in making a sandcastle or sculpture with a group or family. Yesterday, Atkinson and the master artists worked all morning making a sculpture together in front of Clayton’s commemorating the sponsors who help fund the event to bring the artists to the Island to participate. “They (sponsors) feed us and the take us in and they take good care of us,” Atkinson said. “To honor our sponsors and to thank them, we built a wonderful sculpture with all their names and logos.”
The sculpture is a steam punk Victorian theme symbolizing the sponsors as the gears of a machine helping the event along. Sandcastle Days was started 29 years ago by Lucinda “Sandy Feet” Wierenga and the Amazin’ Walter McDonald. The two have participated each year and are also working on their masterpieces made of sand over the next few days.
“I have long believed that our naturally-wonderful sand castling material can really help set us apart from other beach destinations, which is why I have worked so hard to keep Sandcastle Days going,” Sandy Feet said yesterday while carving.

If You Go
Open 9 a.m. – Close Official start of the masters of sand Competition Live bands
Open 9 a.m. – Close Amateur competition 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Sandcastle Days Mercado Live bands
Open 9 a.m. – Close Masters of Sand Sculpting competition final day. Children’s waterslides, bouncer and bull riding Amateur registration, 9 a.m. Amateur competition, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Kids, family, group or singles welcome) Judging for amateur and masters divisions Awards ceremony for amateur and masters divisions Live bands

By RAUL GARCIA Staff Writer