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It’s that time of the year for sharing and gift giving. With Christmas just around the corner the Island wants to make sure children in need get the gifts they deserve. The city of South Padre Island will be hosting an Angel Tree on behalf of the Salvation Army for children in need from the Laguna Madre community.  Donors can pick up an Angel bag at City Hall to help make a child’s Christmas morning a special one this year.
“We are trying to help provide Christmas assistance in Laguna Madre,” said Nancy Botello, South Padre Island communications specialist. “Every child deserves a Christmas morning.” Botello already picked up her gift bag and plans on filling it up for a Laguna Madre child. Botello said she’s also going to decorate the gift bag to add more excitement to her Angel child she will be shopping for. The city will be taking gifts on weekdays until Dec. 9 at City Hall.
The Angel Tree provides Christmas assistance to families in need in the Laguna Madre area. To participate in the program to help deliver the joy of Christmas pick up Angel bags at City Hall.
Gifts will be for boys and girls who have already asked for a particular gift and listed their clothing sizes for donors. Through the Salvation Army Angel Tree program, donors can give joy to a child in need during the holiday season. “You go Christmas shopping for a specific child from Laguna Madre,” Botello said. “Everything is at City Hall to make an adoption.”

By RAUL GARCIA Staff writer

NOVEMBER 28, 2016


A derelict tugboat christened “The Sting” and a rusty old shrimper, “Gulf Explorer,” have been pressed back into service — on the bottom of the Gulf.

The two boats were sunk in 70 feet of water on Nov. 15 as part of an artificial reef being created by Friends of RGV Reef. The boats were towed to a site almost 14 nautical miles north of the South Padre Island jetties and eight miles offshore before sinking.

Towing was provided free of charge by Billy Kennon, owner of Marine Salvage & Services Inc. in Port Isabel. Kennon also sold Friends the 30-ton trawler and 40-ton seagoing tug at a steep discount. The aim of the 1,600-acre project is to substantially boost the red snapper population, said Gary Glick, Friends president. Snapper is a prized recreational game fish.

“Friends of RGV Reef is exceptionally grateful for Billy Kennon’s help,” he said.

The Texas International Fishing Tournament and the Building Conservation Trust, the Coastal Conservation Association’s national habitat program, also contributed, Glick said.

Kennon and Dale Shively of TexasParks and Wildlife’s Artificial Reefing Program were instrumental in securing permission from the U.S. Coast Guard for the tow, Glick said. Friends received permission to tow and sink the boats from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in July. Divers Curtis Hayungs and Bryan Ruiz of McAllen and William Schmidt of South Padre Island donated their time during the sinking.

Large floats were secured to the tops of the vessels before they were sunk so they would land upright, which makes for better fish habitat and is “more fun for scuba divers,” Glick said. The boats provide a high-relief component for the reef and will serve as habitat for reef fish as well as migratory species such as kingfish, jack fish and ling, he said.

The next phase will be to create “mid-rise” reef in the form of 4,000 tons of large riprap — concrete highway dividers, box culverts and slabs of roadway (donated by Foremost Paving Inc. of Brownsville), and low-relief reef composed of some 60,000 cinder blocks and 2,000 tons of small limestone riprap, which will serve as a snapper nursery.

“Based on test patches, biologists think we can grow from 30,000 to 160,000 red snapper to catchable size in two years,” he said. “That’s a huge number of fish. This will be first time anybody’s done it on industrial scale. The problem with being first is there is not a ‘Low-Relief Reef for Dummies’ book. We’re having to learn how to do it.”

The next phase likely will occur this spring, at which point the project will be about 10 percent complete. Glick said the three components of the reef will work together to nurture fish populations. More vessels will eventually be sunk as part of the project, he said.

Glick said Friends has $400,000 budgeted for the upcoming work thanks to the Building Conservation Trust, the City of South Padre Island Convention Center and Visitors Bureau, the SPI Economic Development Corporation, the Texas International Fishing Tournament and Max Nichols, a donor and RGV fishing enthusiast from Kansas.

Friends is hoping to find a good deal on oceangoing barge services, which are extremely expensive but essential to transport the riprap and cinder blocks, Glick said. How long it will take to build up the entire reef depends on whether the group’s grant applications to BP bear fruit, he said. Friends has applied for $12 million total. Without that money the project probably will take much longer, said Glick, who estimated the total cost at $20 million.

Once it’s finished the reef is likely to have a big economic impact locally because of the effect on snapper populations, he said. Glick cited the Alabama Reefing Project, which started in the 1980s.

“They have 3.7 percent of the Gulf coastline and take 30 to 40 percent of the recreational snapper take every year, and it’s been well studied,” he said. “Several sources say it’s a $50 million to $60 million economic impact every year. We think that’s entirely doable. That’s kind of what we’re up to.”


NOVEMBER 28, 2016


Each year thousands of endangered baby turtles are released into the gulf from South Padre Island. But as Sea Turtle Inc. reports, ‘sea turtle life is a difficult life.’ Each year about a handful make it back to reproduce. These turtles face many dangers when they’re young. They are easy prey for large predators, but some get caught up in litter. “They’ve eaten balloons, they get twisted up in onion sacks, so there is a lot of that trash creates for our marine life, for our sea turtles, for our dolphins,” says Kat Lillie cleanup organizer at Sea Turtle Inc.

Sea Turtle Inc was awarded a grant from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. It will help their operations and help reduce debris. “It funds among other things, four beach cleanups between four years. So we’ll be doing them in the fall and in the spring for the next 2 years,” says Lillie. They are optimistic about their upcoming efforts. They will set up on city Beach Access #3. That’s the access on Gulf Blvd. “We chose thanksgiving weekends because this is a weekend where there is a lot of people on the beach,” says Lillie, “It’s a weekend when we’re trying to be grateful for everything we have. The beach is something so beautiful that we have down here.”

Turtles can mistake trash for food they eat. Although most trash isn’t directly thrown on the water, it eventually makes it way towards marine life. Tomorrow, between one to three hundred people are expected. They plan to stop the litter before it becomes a threat to wildlife.

Cleanup begins this Saturday November 26th from 9:00 A.M. till Noon. Registration will be available on site.

Sea Turtle Inc. will provide gloves and bags. They ask volunteers to dress for appropriately for tomorrow’s weather.


Sea Turtle Inc. asked that we share a list of partners that made this cleanup possible

– NOAA Marine Debris Program

– Keep SPI Beautiful

– Respeta La Playa

– City of South Padre Island Environmental Services

– Cameron County Parks and Recreation

– Point Isabel ISD

– Clayton’s Beach Bar

By Alfredo Cuadros

NOVEMBER 28, 2016


LOS FRESNOS — A bright yellow cautionary tale sits beside a birding trail that winds through the mesquite trees at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. The sign, in English and Spanish, reads “Warning Cougar Area.”

Whether that is accurate on any given day is problematic, because refuge officials and others think mountain lions are inside Laguna Atascosa periodically but not necessarily on a permanent basis. “I think it kind of raises alarm when it doesn’t need to be raised,” said Boyd Blihovde, the refuge manager, who says he inherited the warning signs when he arrived several years ago and has considered removing them. “But I feel like if we take them down, that’s when something will happen.”

The signs may be artifacts from a previous administration, but there have been recent mountain lion sightings at the refuge. “This past year we have had very credible sightings from at least two people,” Blihovde said. “One’s a volunteer who’s been working here many, many years, and they actually watched one for quite a while” through a spotting scope. “The other one was a biker who saw one twice,” he added. “That was on Bayside Loop which is popular for biking right now.”

Once practically extirpated as livestock predators east of the Rocky Mountains, there are an estimated 30,000 mountain lions in the United States today. And like the Texas population, the lions are migrating eastward. Credible mountain lion sightings have been made in at least a dozen Midwestern states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as Arkansas and Louisiana. Florida, of course, has a small remnant population in the Everglades.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says the big cats are found throughout the Trans-Pecos area, as well as the brush lands of South Texas and portions of the Hill Country. State biologists say mountain lions now occur in more counties than they did 10 years ago and are expanding their range west to east.

The reason mountain lions could be here today and gone tomorrow in South Texas is their great individual ranges which can cover as much as 370 square miles. Most of these mountain lion sightings are of young males, known as dispersers, who have been driven out of the area where they were born by older males.

“My feeling is that one or two mountain lions have Laguna Atascosa in their range, but they’re essentially such wide-ranging animals that they’re not here all the time,” said Hilary Swarts, a biologist at Laguna Atascosa and a cat expert. Michael Tewes, holder of the Frank D. Yturria Endowed Chair in Wild Cat Studies at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, said sporadic mountain lion sightings have occurred at Laguna Atascosa for decades. “When I lived on the refuge during the 1980s, I made a plaster cast of a lion track — and I still have it — and walked within 15 steps of another on the Bayside Loop,” Tewes said. “I also found mountain lion tracks over the mud flats surrounding the small islands located between State Highway 4 and the Brownsville Ship Channel,” he added.

But Tewes doesn’t believe there is a significant breeding population of mountain lions in South Texas. What we are seeing are the occasional young males, the dispersers, and he says they can pop up almost anywhere in the region. Blihovde says the refuge signs were placed in areas where a mountain lion had been seen previously.

“Now we’ve seen ‘em in so many places, you could be pretty much assured that anywhere you go on Laguna you could see a wild cat like that,” he added.

The reason mountain lions are seen at all in South Texas has to do with their population increase leading them into new territory and available food sources — in this case, young nilgai antelope, white-tailed deer, feral hogs, javelinas, birds and rabbits. “For sure they’d take a young nilgai, they’d definitely take a young nilgai,” Blihovde said.

At the visitor center at Laguna Atascosa, there is ample information about refuge cats, both past and present. The refuge still harbors bobcats, ocelots and mountain lions, but the jaguarundi and jaguar are gone.

In 1946, a 200-pound male jaguar was shot and killed on San Jose Ranch near Olmito. Two years later, a jaguar was killed on Santa Gertrudis Creek near Kingsville close to U.S. 77. It was the last jaguar seen in Texas. The last jaguarundi in the Rio Grande Valley was hit and killed by a vehicle near Brownsville in 1986.

As for the “Warning Cougar Area” signs, biologist Swarts says she’s concerned some people might mistakenly conclude it’s too risky and decide against trekking out into the refuge’s wild areas. After all, there have been documented instances of mountain lions preying on humans, particularly in the West. But attacks by the secretive mountain lion are quite rare.

“I think people who aren’t as familiar with nature could view that as a deterrent, but it’s really a highly, highly, highly statistically improbable occasion” that a mountain lion might attack someone, she said.

“The last thing I want is for people to come here, whether they’re local or made a trip from The Netherlands, and have to worry about a mountain lion attack.”

Mountain lion (puma concolor)

LENGTH — 3-4 feet; tail is 2.5 to 3 feet

WEIGHT — 70 to 170 pounds

DESCRIPTION — A large, slender cat with a smallish head and noticeably long tail. Fur is a light, tawny brown color which can appear gray or almost black, depending on light

conditions. Contrary to popular belief, there are no black panthers in North America. Mountain lions are also called cougars, pumas, panthers, painters and catamounts.

BEHAVIOR — Secretive animals, they prey on a variety of animals, including deer, wild hogs, javelina, rabbits, jackrabbits and rodents. Some lions occasionally kill livestock or dogs.

DISTRIBUTION — Mountain lions generally are found in remote mountains, canyonlands, or hilly areas with good cover. It has the widest distribution of any wild cat, from Canada to South America. In Texas, the mountain lion is found throughout the Trans-Pecos, as well as the brush lands of South Texas and portions of the Hill Country. Sightings and kill reports — mountain lions can be hunted legally in Texas — indicate they are expanding their range to the east.


NOVEMBER 23, 2016


If you are ready to make a difference this holiday season, the Laguna Madre area is ready for you. You can now stop by the South Padre Island City Hall and adopt an ‘Angel Tree’.

The Salvation Army local chapter is partnering with the city of South Padre to make sure every child in the area has a gift this Christmas.

About 400 children in the Laguna Madre area are in need. All you have to do is stop by SPI City Hall during work hours and choose a boy or a girl whose Christmas wish list you would like to help turn into a reality.

Nancy Botello, City of South Padre Island says, “If you find it in your heart to give back to a child or a family here in the Laguna Madre area you know we encourage you to come by and pick up an angel and be able to provide Christmas for a child that deserves everything.”

Julie Gaucin with the Salvation Army says, “Even when you go do that shopping for that angel tree, it makes you feel good about yourself because you’re giving back to the community.”

Once you have adopted an ‘Angel Tree’, your unwrapped Christmas gift is expected back at SPI City Hall by December 9th. Other places also helping get Angel Trees are Plains Capital Bank, Porky Pits and Port Isabel Park Center.

By Emily Jimenez

NOVEMBER 22, 2016


Prairieville, 500 miles from Brownsville as the crow flies, was among several communities in southeastern Louisiana devastated by historic, widespread flooding in August.
Among those that lost everything were several school libraries. A book drive involving the Brownsville Public Library and Ethel L. Whipple Memorial Library in Los Fresnos is helping the affected schools eventually get back to normal. Valley Trucking Company, headquartered in Brownsville, delivered 33 boxes of books this month at no charge.
Five Ascension Parish schools were hit by flooding, among them Galvez Primary School, where Patty Grimball has been a teacher for 25 years. Grimball is the niece of Los Fresnos resident Robin Garrett, a retired educator for BrownsvilleIndependentSchool District and a Cameron County Library System lay representative for the Ethel L. Whipple Memorial Library in Los Fresnos.
When she heard the news of the flooding, Garrett contacted her Louisiana kin. Everybody was OK, thankfully, though Grimball’s school was not. The district was asking for donations of books and supplies. Garrett and a longtime friend, retired BISD educator Sandra Merrill, boxed up some books and shipped them to Louisiana.
Calvin Walker, president of the Brownsville Friends of the Library and county library system representative for the Brownsville Public Library, then heard about it from Merrill and thought Brownsville should get on board. The Brownsville library took delivery of nine boxes of books from Los Fresnos and added another 24 boxes of its own. Valley Trucking delivered the full cargo on Friday.
“Calvin being Calvin, he knew the people to get in touch with,” Garrett said.
Valley Trucking President Todd George said delivering the books for free was in keeping with the company’s practice of helping out where there’s need, whether it’s a police toy drive in Brownsville or a flooded school in Louisiana.
“We want to be able to help out communities that have been hit by devastation of any kind,” he said. “We’re big into this.”


NOVEMBER 17, 2016


The sinking of two retired vessels marked the start of a man-made reef in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s called the RGV Reef. The people behind the project said it will benefit everyone. It’ll replenish fish in the Gulf, bring income to the area and provide a great fishing spot for all.

Robert Glick, the founder of RGV Reef, witnessed the first piece of his project fall into place. “This is a state water reef. It opens up a tremendous opportunity for us. It’s close enough that small boats can come on a nice day, like today, but big enough that boats won’t be able to fish it out,” he said.

The old shrimping vessel, the Gulf Explorer, and an old tugboat, the Sting, were towed out to state waters off the shores of South Padre Island. The ships sunk to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, 13 miles, traveling at 20 degrees and north of the jetties. It wasn’t an easy task getting the vessels to their final resting spot. It took seven hours for the “Sea Spirit” to haul them.

A towing job, like the one made, starts at a cost of about $6,000. Glick said he was grateful the towing was free. Other people are backing the cause. “Every time we make a step, someone comes forward and helps us. This time Billy Kennon with the Sea Spirit really pulled it together for us. Every time there’s somebody, I hope every time there will be somebody,” Glick said.

Glick admitted the project started with the simple idea of wanting a better fishing spot to catch red snapper. He said it quickly became much more than that. “In the scheme of things, the Gulf being a better place is important to me, more important than catching a lot of fish. And as we progressed on this project, we realized that this was going to be a learning curve for all other projects. They’ll be a lot more up around the Gulf. It really is my legacy, not to catch fish but to leave this great reef behind,” he said.

Fishing for red snapper is strictly regulated in federal waters, and the open season is short. Federal waters start at nine nautical miles from the shore; one nautical mile is a little more than a mile as measured on land. Fishing for red snapper within state waters is year-round. Glick hopes the reef will help replenish the number of adult fish available for local fishermen.

“Next year, these shrimp vessels will be full of fish. It will draw people to South Padre Island. It will benefit the boat vendors, the tackle vendors, the hotels, the restaurants. It will be an automatic impact for people to fish snapper 365 days instead of just six or seven,” Glick added. Glick said he hopes to expand the reef over the next five years. He mentioned the plan for the summer months is to haul concrete out to the site and drop it to the bottom of the Gulf. Fishermen can find the area by looking for buoy number 58.

NOVEMBER 14, 2016


For a town that is often forgotten because South Padre Island is right next door —one website didn’t forget to list it as a beautiful Texas town. The Culture Trip website recently listed the small bay town on its top 10 list of the most beautiful and charming towns in Texas.
The website’s article lists the Texas town’s landscapes, unique economy, geography and culture as the key points for their decision for the top 10 little towns.
Former Port Isabel police chief and lifetime resident Wally Gonzalez agreed. “For one, it’s a fishing community and most everybody knows each other and is friendly with each other,” Gonzalez said. He said it’s a beautiful area and you can walk anywhere you want and people are friendly. The online article boasts about the town’s Texas International Fishing Tournament and the significant popular attraction of the Port Isabel Lighthouse that was built in 1852.“I was born and raised here and I love it,” Gonzalez said. “You don’t have the hustle and bustle of the big cities.” Even though on weekends and certain parts of the year there is a lot of traffic, the former chief said it’s bearable.

“Port Isabel has it all,” Gonzalez said. “We’re not too far away from Padre Island.” The website also reports on the town’s access to local beaches and great sport fishing, kayaking, parasailing, boating tours and dolphin watching.
Gonzalez said residents can go anytime they want to the beaches and the tourist attractions in town and on the Island. “During my teen years I would always go over to the Island on weekends and during the summer when I didn’t work,” Gonzalez said. “I tried surfing but I never made it.” He said Port Isabel is a nice place to live. “This city has grown from the time I grew up,” Gonzalez said. He said he never had problems with people in Port Isabel as chief of police.
He just finished his 40th season as the announcer for the high school football team and plans to continue announcing even the high school baseball games. Gonzalez retired from his post as chief of police for Port Isabel in October. “The people here are all good people,” he said.

By RAUL GARCIA Staff writer

NOVEMBER 14, 2016


Are bike, pedestrian and aquatic trail systems desirable because they promote healthy lifestyles in a community, or because they draw tourists?
The Harlingen-San Benito Metropolitan Planning Organization hopes the answer is — both.
The transportation board has approved the Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Transportation and Active Tourism Plan, a preliminary designation which, as of now, doesn’t involve any funding commitment.
“The goal of the plan is to generate new economic opportunities throughout Cameron County, to diversify the local tourism market, to link Cameron County communities, create a regional bicycle and pedestrian network and help promote healthy lifestyles,” said Eva Garcia, a member of the Brownsville Planning Department which commissioned the study thanks to funds from a Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation grant.
“The current tourism economy in Cameron County is focused a lot around the beach,” Garcia said, but she thinks the county can do more.
“The Active Plan” as it is called proposes 120 miles of on-street bicycle routes starting in Combes and continuing to South Padre Island and on to Brownsville, or what she calls the “scenic route.” A second trail would be designated a “historic route.”
The plan also proposes more than 227 miles of multi-use trails.
“That’s your off-street system for runners, walkers or cyclists,” she said. “These are along either drainage or irrigation canals, some run along railroads and some run near the resacas.”
The plan also calls for 78 miles of paddling trails for kayakers or canoeists, starting with the existing 10 miles of state-designated paddling trail in South Bay.
“We’re proposing one all along the coast of the Laguna Madre and inland through Rio Hondo, terminating between Harlingen and San Benito,” Garcia said.
Cities with a stake in the plan so far are Harlingen, San Benito, Combes, Brownsville, Laguna Vista, Los Fresnos, Port Isabel, Rancho Viejo and South Padre Island.
This broad bike-pedestrian-paddle plan supersedes a previous hike-and-bike version approved by the Harlingen-San Benito MPO.
“The plan is different from what we had,” said J. Joel Garza Jr., director of the Harlingen-San Benito organization. “Our plan is more of a city structure plan, something people in this area need, like bike lanes, bike trails, etc.
“The Cameron County active plan is more about how to bring people from the outside into this county and use these new trails, the proposed trails, so that’s the big difference — the tourism element,” Garza added.
Garcia said the proposed transportation system would be marketed to people who make up the “active tourism” market segment.
Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell, chair of the Harlingen-San Benito MPO’s board, made clear in his questioning that any board approval did not come with a financial commitment — at least for now.
“The intent is more to reach out for grants from different agencies,” Garza explained following the meeting.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer

NOVEMBER 12, 2016


Runners will be able to take in the classic sights of downtown Harlingen while they also move toward marathon gold. They’ll make their way along the lake trail and enjoy the expected brisk morning before they finish right back where they started. Some will be treated to medals and some with be treated to a job well done for completing the 13-mile run.

This Sunday’s Harlingen Half Marathon is expected to be quite an event with more than 1,000 runners and walkers. That includes participants for the 5K walk/jog, a two-person relay event, the Kids Ninja Warrior One Mile Challenge and the 13.1-mile solo run.
Runners from Arizona, the Rio Grande Valley, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, San Marcos, Houston, Matamoros and Monterrey, Mexico will be represented. Footwork’s and the city of Harlingen have teamed up again this year to host this second annual Harlingen Half Marathon starting downtown at 7 a.m. The route includes upbeat music and water stops about at least every mile while participants go past downtown Harlingen and its landmarks.
This year’s event also will include a Kids Ninja Warrior One Mile Challenge and Health & Business Expo on Saturday beginning promptly at 8:30 a.m. at the TSTC Athletic Field followed by the health expo that will take place at TSTC Cultural Arts Center from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The expo will be open to the public.

“The Kids Ninja Warrior One Mile Challenge is one of the first major running events for children in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Jun Ellorimo, race director. “Over 100 children have registered for the event.”
Families and individuals are encouraged to attend and fill the sidewalks along Jackson Street, from Commerce to 6th Street, and encourage runners and walkers.
Jackson Street will be closed down for part of the morning.
The 5k walk/jog is scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m.
After leaving the Lon C. Hill Fair Park, athletes will head into downtown Harlingen.
They will then go to the City Lake Trail, past Austin Elementary School, the Harlingen Home Town Heroes Trail at Pendleton Park, and Texas State Technical College before reaching the turn-around point at the Iwo Jima Memorial on the campus of Marine Military Academy.
Runners will then go to TSTC, Memorial Middle School, Harlingen School of Health Professions and Harlingen High School before back tracking to finish at Lon C. Hill Fair Park.
Following the marathon, guests will be treated to a post marathon celebration at 9:30 a.m. with a full blast concert.

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — More than 5,000 people are expected to attend the South Padre Island Marathon tomorrow. To accommodate the large crowd, the city is taking extra precautions. Registered athletes are set to run from Port Isabel and across the Queen Isabella Causeway onto the island. Registration for the event is closed.

The actual race will start early at 6:30 a.m. on the corner of Manautou and Highway 100. The finish line is at Clayton’s Beach Bar and Grill.
The eastbound side of the causeway will be closed for athletes. There will be two-way traffic on the westbound side of the causeway allowing access to and from the island. Highway 100, eastbound lane will be re-routed through S. Shore Drive. Westbound traffic along Highway 100 will operate as usual.
There will be spectator parking along Gulf Boulevard and no parking will be available at Claytons Beach Bar and Grill on race day.
Shuttles will run from the island to the start line from 4:30 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. Parking is available at the waterpark, Andy Bowie Park and the convention center. Spaces are limited.
The shuttles are for registered runners only.