In the space of about two years, Adam Thompson has gone from peddling his goat cheese products mostly to farmers markets to seeing them on the shelves of 27 H-E-B stores in Texas, including locations in Brownsville, Harlingen, Port Isabel and the McAllen-Pharr-Edinburg metro area.
H-E-B recently picked up two products from Thompson Dairy Farms (formerly South Texas Cheese Factory): a “classic” aged goat feta and a marinated version, both found in the stores’ specialty cheese departments. Thompson said that as far as he knows it’s the only goat cheese available at H-E-B made from raw milk, unpasteurized, with no preservatives.
“It’s milk and culture and rennet and salt,” he said.
Thompson said he’d always planned to break into retail with his dairy, located in Bayview, and last year entered H-E-B’s “Primo Picks Quest for Texas Best” contest, which solicits entries of Texas-made products from across the state. Grand prize winners get the opportunity to pitch their products to H-E-B executives and, if they’re lucky, actually get shelf space.
Thompson Dairy Farms made it into the top 25 among 400 entries in the 2015 competition and was invited to Houston to compete in the finals. The company didn’t win, though H-E-B was still interested in the products. A company executive told Thompson as much before he could leave the building, Thompson said.
“They still wanted to work with us,” he said. “The vice president of deli said they still want to get something going, still wanted to make a deal.”
A month later, Thompson went to San Antonio to meet with the buyers and hammer out an agreement, he said.
“It’s been a year-long process getting in there, but we finally got ourselves on the shelves now,” Thompson said. “It’s been a journey. We’ve been working on this deal since last December.”
A roaring weekend cold front is apparently the culprit in yet another pelican kill on State Highway 48 between Port Isabel and Brownsville.
Witnesses said yesterday the carcasses of about a dozen brown pelicans were seen about 7 a.m. Monday along the roadway near where more than 60 birds were killed by traffic on Dec. 8. TxDOT reported three dead pelicans were found during the latest incident.
Pamela Downing of South Padre Island, who commutes that section of highway daily, described the scene as “gruesome.”
“I was riding in from South Padre, and obviously it was another large pelican kill along the highway,” Downing said. “It was a little grotesque, and there was even a beak standing straight up as I was dodging carcasses of the animals.”
Pelican mortality along the section of State Highway 48, which has a posted speed limit of 75 mph, has been occurring sporadically for years. Most of the deaths have occurred in winter when cold fronts push through from the north.
TxDOT recently installed flashing warning signs along the highway urging drivers to slow down because of the possibility of pelicans on or near the roadway.
“The portable message boards have been placed on both sides and we are looking into placing signs similar to what are on the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway,” alerting drivers to watch for pelicans, said TxDOT spokesperson Octavio Saenz via email yesterday.
Two years ago, TxDOT installed metal poles at a cost of $60,000 that extend up and out from concrete traffic barriers along the shoulders of four-lane State Highway 48. The idea was the poles, which rise several feet above the roadway, would deter pelicans from flying near or landing on the highway.
The poles were installed near the Jaime J. Zapata Memorial Boat Ramp with additional poles about two miles north of that site near the Bahia Grande Pilot Channel.
“Our environmental section here at the Texas Department of Transportation Pharr District has been monitoring the issue very closely since the first cold front,” Saenz said. “We have determined that the pelican poles that were set up on two sections of SH48 are effective.
“The question is now to determine what is causing the brown pelicans to fly so low over the road,” Saenz said. “There are several options that are being considered, from placing additional poles to attaching reflectors on critical areas.”
The highway cuts through wetlands which are part of the Bahia Grande Unit of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Some have speculated the birds are trying to escape the bitter winds as the cold fronts push through by leaving the Gulf of Mexico to find shelter inland. Or, they say, pelicans are mistaking the rain-slicked highway for water and attempting to land.
Downing said the pelican deaths are occurring at a spot where the 3.5-foot concrete traffic barriers are situated along both sides of the highway, leaving a minimal shoulder.
“I’d like to think lowering the speed limit would help,” Downing said. “I don’t know if they can move those barriers — I know they’re concerned about human beings getting hurt … but when I’m driving there’s no shoulder, you can’t even avoid the birds if you wanted to.”
Where there are kittens, there’s hope.
Four of the seven known female ocelots at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge have been photographed with new kittens, including one discovered in the first ocelot den found on the refuge in 20 years.
Of the seven known adult females, two are just reaching the age to reproduce, three have been photographed with healthy-looking kittens, one was tracked to the den with a kitten and one adult female has not been seen with any offspring.
The past two years have not been kind to the endangered Texas ocelot subspecies. Between June 2015 and April of this year, seven ocelots — six males and a female — are known to have died after being hit by vehicles. In all, Texas ocelots number about 80, with around 15 of them at Laguna Atascosa.
So the kittens are very good news for the local ocelot population.
“I suspect that the past couple of years of abundant rainfall have made excellent breeding conditions for these endangered wild cats,” said Hilary Swarts, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who is stationed at Laguna Atascosa.
Swarts said such conditions lead to abundant plant growth which provides more food for prey species like rodents, rabbits and birds.
“With plenty of food and water, and minimal disturbance from humans, female ocelots have all the resources they need to reproduce successfully,” Swarts added.
Using GPS, biologists tracked one of the female ocelots and she led the team to the den.
Once there, researchers found the tiny kitten which weighed just under a pound and was probably just three weeks old.
The biologists took measurements and photos and left the area quickly to minimize disturbance to the den. The kitten’s mother, approximately 11 years old, was not at the den at the time but returned soon after. Researchers plan to track the kitten’s growth and progress.
Researchers also found that of the adult females captured on camera at the Yturria Conservation Easement in Willacy County, at least three have had kittens this past year. Ocelot females usually have only one kitten per litter, but researchers found one of the three cats had twins.
“Data gathered in Willacy County is further evidence that private ranches are often great havens for wildlife and key partners in our conservation efforts,” said Boyd Blihovde, refuge manager at Laguna Atascosa. “These private lands will be crucial to protecting habitat and wildlife into the future.”
While biologists are sure Laguna Atascosa has around 15 ocelots at any one time, numbers in the rest of the cats’ range in Cameron, Willacy and Kenedy counties are murky. Many landowners have declined requests to allow federal biologists access to their property.
The SPI Shoreline Task Force reviewed two beach permits in its Dec. 2 meeting. The first was a Beach-Dune Permit for walkover construction at the Marisol Condominiums, 1700 Gulf Blvd. The project involves construction a 5-foot wide by 3-foot long dune walk over in an existing beach access path. An existing wooden plank walkway and concrete stairs are also to be removed as a part of the project with the applicant mitigating for 105 square feet of adverse effects to dune vegetation.
“The walkover itself will be minimal impact on the dune system because it’s actually going to where the current pathway from the retaining wall to the public beach exists,” stated Shoreline Management Director Brandon Hill. “This has gone before the GLO (Texas General Land Office) and was approved under the conditions that the City lets the GLO know when the permit has been granted, that the mitigation is done one to one, (and) that the building itself is followed to the “T” with what’s being approved here,” he added. The permit was unanimously approved by the Task Force for recommendation to the City Council.
The second permit reviewed by the Task Force involved the construction of a new retaining wall at the Marriot Property, 6700 Padre Blvd. “The wall itself will originate where a current wall is already ending and will go across the extent of the owner’s property and proceed to go back into the property where that wall is actually going to continue the length of that property,’ said Hill.
Task Force member Rob Nixon raised the concern about a gap in the area between the Marriot and the neighboring property, Clayton’s Beach Bar. “I am concerned about that because that’s just a funnel for amplifying wave energy in case we have a big tidal surge and would cause both walls to probably be scoured and compromised., said Nixon.
He added that in a conversation with Clayton Brashear, he learned that this is the same area where Clayton’s wants to place the landing for a pier. Nixon asked Brashear, owner of Clayton’s Beach Bar, who was present at the meeting, to address the Task Force about the issue.
“I have a wall permit on this line (pointing to a map of the property) ready to go across my property which we did some work – continuing to some work with. “we’re going to go right across here, but I could not do my application. We didn’t make our application because we needed the Marriot to figure out what they were going to do first,” Brashear explained. “I need this to be approved so that I can submit to you all our application,” he added.
Nixon also raided the concern to Hill about the lack of specific details in the application regarding mitigation. “Would a map showing the placement of the material and mitigation plan assist them in their application (to the GLO)? Very likely, but I don’t know that it’s for us to determine if they can move forward without that, but that’s up to you guys,” explained Hill.
“Something I might suggest if we want to not hamper this project from proceeding is (to) give the staff recommendation that this be moved forward to the GLO upon receipt of a mitigation plan, and then let he GLO take a look at it, write their recommendations, and then I will still come before you all one more time to go to City Council to get that mitigation plan approved,” Hill suggested.
“I’d like to see the thing move forward and not hold it up while we sit and wait for a mitigation plan that’s being prepared for or review,” commented Task Force Chair Troy Giles. Council agreed with Hill’s suggestion and unanimously approved the recommendation to submit the plan from the City to the GLO upon receipt of the applicant’s mitigation plan.
By- Kevin Rich
The SPI Convention and Visitors Advisory Board (CVA) discussed event permitting requirements, considered funding for events, as well as heard marketing and post-event reports in Nov. 30 meeting.
Advisory Board Chair Wally Jones brought forth an agenda item for discussion and possible action regarding the Beach Events Permit Requirements. Jones provided background information on the issue, including that the reason this item was on the agenda was a result of the mayor asking the Board to come up with a plan back in May 2016 meeting. Jones stated that he wanted to use the opportunity to open up a discussion with board members as well as with audience members regarding the issue.
“The attachment that we have to this agenda merely serves as an example for what some other community has done- and that would be Panama City Beach, Florida after the problems they had there,” said Jones regarding the sample Permit Requirements documents provided. “we took that and reviewed it, made some edits to it, and merely put it out there saying, ‘Listen, this is something we feel like that we can work with and edit further and be able to end up with a good product.”
“We’re charged with trying to get people here, and this seems to me a part of not getting people here. I’m all about having a schedule of fees for participation of the city, but this is about approval of events,” stated Board Member Jimmy Hawkins. He went on to make the point that most of SPI beach front availability is adjacent to private property, and that those proprietors should have the right to be able to run their facility. “I understand the safety aspect that it is the public beach, but I also know that these are businesses and we are charged in getting people here,” argued Hawkins.
“I don’t want to become a Panama City though, where because they didn’t have proper security, or it didn’t work, they had some incidents,” replied Board Member Bill Donahue. “I think that anybody putting on an event should have some requirements to make sure that happens,” he added.
SPI Police Chief Randy Smith spoke on the issue, as well, stating the need for being able to plan for big events. The Chief stated that most of the big events here every year have people in charge that network with his office very well. He added that the issue is with “pop-up” events that come to town and develop just days before the scheduled event. Smith stated that if these occur during a busy time like Spring Break where resources are already committed, then it can have issues.
SPI Development Services Director Dr. Sungman Kim provided the Board with information about the existing ordinance related to this issue. “That is not complete so far, so we don’t have any requirements per se about the security issues,” Kim said. “We need to develop our ordinance as soon as possible,” he emphasized.
The owner of Clayton’s Beach Bar spoke on the issue when the discussion was opened to the audience. He emphasized the importance of Spring Break revenues to Hotel Occupancy Tax collection, displaying a bar graph showing the dramatic rise in these revenues inn that month. He emphasized that the CVA are the ones that are actively advertising for spring breakers. “Don’t say, Oh no we want spring breakers, but we want to control it so much.” Panama City controlled it so much and lost $40 million in revenue,” he reminded them.
After much discussion, Jones emphasized that development of this ordinance should reside with the people that have the authority to enact such an ordinance. He went on to make a motion, which was approved by the Board, to recommend that City Council discuss the documents related to event permits with the objective of developing a comprehensive mass gathering ordinance for South Padre Island.
In other business, the Board approved a request for $25,000 to fund the Splash event that is scheduled for April 27-30, 2017. The approval was made contingent upon the promotor’s ability to land the potential artists listed on the request documents which include realty TV star and radio host Lance Bass as well as actress Ruby Rose.
The Atkins Group provided the Board with an overview of Spring Break and Winter Texan marketing efforts. Spring Break initiatives covered in the report included both collegiate as well as those targeting families. Other advertising campaigns highlighted in the report included a family leisure: Midwest/Canada as well as a campaign targeting Mexico.
The Board also heard post-event reports from the Wahoo fishing Tournament, Coastal Conservation Association-Take a Kid Fishing, Run the Jailbreak-SPI Marathon, and Open Water Planet.
-By Kevin Rich
What started out as a dare between friends to jump into the cold Island water celebrating the new year has become an event all of its own. Island residents Greg Morrison, Blain McCuloch, Traylor Sells and Cindy Shomrock didn’t just dip their feet in the cold winter Island water, they went all in to mark the New Year and started what would become the Island’s annual Polar Bear Dip.
“Actually, a lot of us like to take our first bath in the Gulf of Mexico,” co-founder Morrison said. “We’re very much lucky to be around people who come out here and support us. We’re polar bears with a cause.”Proceeds from the event are donated to local nonprofit organizations. Morrison said they’ve held the event for 18 years, facing every element of weather. Regardless of the cold temperature, he said the show must go on.
It won’t be any different at the 19th Annual Polar Bear Dip where many will be taking the plunge at what is unofficially the nation’s warmest Polar Bear Dip.
The dip takes place at high noon New Year’s Day. More than 1,000 are expected to participate in the dash and splash into the Gulf of Mexico.
Participants are encouraged to wear costumes to the event, which features live music and a costume contest. “It started out as a party on New Year’s Eve. We were sitting around having some margaritas, the four of us, and it was just a goofy idea.”
By RAUL GARCIA | Staff writer
The annual Christmas Parade down South Padre Island’s Padre Boulevard is one of many gearing up to bring local residents and visitors together to celebrate the holiday. “We’re looking forward to it,” said Dennis Stahl, SPI councilman. “It’s a wonderful event that brings the Island together.”
Lighted floats, area schools and businesses will be participating Friday night. Santa also will be on his sleigh, greeting the many people in attendance. “It’s a nice community event to be with kids, family and friends,” Stahl said.
Spectators are asked to bring their own chairs, blankets and hot chocolate, and to find a spot on Padre Boulevard to watch the parade.
The City of South Padre Island Police Department, along with other city departments of South Padre Island, will be working together to manage personnel and traffic control barrels and cones that will be placed in areas to enhance the flow of traffic.
A partial closure of Padre Boulevard will run from 4:30 to 6 p.m. for southbound traffic beginning at Polaris Drive with a detour to Laguna Boulevard, and for northbound traffic beginning at Venus Lane with a detour to Gulf Boulevard.
The full parade route closure for Padre Boulevard will run from 6 to 10 p.m. for southbound traffic beginning at Polaris Drive, with a detour to Laguna Boulevard, and for northbound traffic beginning at Red Snapper Street, with a detour to Gulf Boulevard.
By RAUL GARCIA Staff Writer
In the simplest of terms, they’re trying to herd cats. The dozen wildlife crossings being constructed on two highways, which have taken more than their share of ocelot lives, are experimental, wildlife officials say.
The plan is for chain-link fencing along FM 106 and State Highway 100 in WillacyCounty to funnel ocelots to the underpasses, allowing them to bypass the highways safely.
So far, it’s been a grim year and a half for the endangered subspecies.
Between June 2015 and April of this year, seven ocelots — six males and a female — are known to have died after being hit by vehicles in South Texas. In all, the endangered Texas ocelot subspecies numbers about 80, with around 15 of them at Laguna Atascosa.
But U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say no ocelot highway fatalities have been reported since April.
“I’m probably as proud of those wildlife crossings as anything else that’s happened here since I’ve been here at Laguna,” said Boyd Blihovde, the refuge manager. “They are probably going to do more to help ocelots rebound here than anything else — just getting ocelots off roads.
“This is new, basically an experiment,” he said. “Nobody’s really tested sufficiently how well these crossings will work, but we’re really excited.” Small, fast and moving at night, ocelots have had a long and losing experience on the remote Texas highways that cut through the diminishing habitat where they’re still found. “The fencing will go along parallel to the road on each side of the road, and will funnel — hopefully — as much wildlife as possible into the crossings,” Blihovde said. “We’re hoping white-tailed deer will use them in some cases, and other species, too.”
By RICK KELLEY Staff WriterCan highway underpasses save endangered South Texas cats?
Elma Ruiz was eagerly looking forward to participating in the annual Christmas boat parade. So when she found out the parade had been canceled, she decided to organize the event herself.
“Elma came out one day and said they are canceling the boat parade,” said Lucille Cavoly, co-owner of Burger Shack. “She wanted to be in it, and wanted to keep it going. “She wanted to save Christmas for the Island.”
The Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce had hosted the Port Isabel-South Padre Island Christmas Lighted Boat Parade over the past 29 years. But in early November, the Chamber announced it would no longer be hosting the event due to a lack of participants.
When word got around, some residents decided they needed to do something to keep the tradition alive.
“I just thought it was really important to step up and give it a try,” said Ruiz, Burger Shack co-owner. “I wish I had known it was in trouble because I would have gotten involved sooner.” Because of those efforts, this year will mark the 30th annual boat parade that Port Isabel shares with the Island.
Ruiz and Cavoly had some flyers designed to announce the parade and passed them out around town to spark interest. Cavoly said 10 boats have been registered by willing participants and they expect more people to sign up. Over the years boat owners, personal watercraft owners, kayakers and owners of anything that floats have been invited to be a part of the event. Ruiz is still working on decorating her boat to get it ready for the parade.
The parade begins at the South point Marina. From there, it makes its way across the Laguna Madre, along the bayfront of South Padre Island and ends at Jim’s Pier. The boats will be judged at Jim’s Pier and an awards ceremony will be held at Louie’s Backyard immediately after the judging. Viewing areas can be found at several waterfront restaurants and docks. Cavoly said spectators who are familiar with the event know where to get a good view of the spectacle.
There are cash prizes and gift certificates for the participants with the best decorated boat. The judging criteria will include first impression, theme and special effects. Winners will receive a variety of prizes donated by area merchants, including gift certificates, marine items and much more. There is no charge to enter the parade. Port Isabel police will be carrying Santa Claus on the final boat.
“So many people have told us stories how they like to decorate their boat every year and that it’s a great holiday tradition,” Ruiz said.
As word and disappointment of its cancellation spread across social media, several residents took action to save one of the Laguna Madre region’s most beloved traditions: The Christmas Boat Parade.
For years, the event had been hosted and sponsored by the Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce, but just a few short weeks ago, the Chamber announced it was canceling the event for at least one year in order to regroup and research how to increase boat participation and make it more successful.
A Facebook post announcing the cancellation garnered dozens of comments expressing disappointment from locals, as well as visitors who had planned to attend.
Enter Elma Ruiz, a local teacher and part owner of Will and Jack’s Burger Shack located at the Lighthouse Square in Port Isabel. Ruiz, along with her friend Lucy Cavoly, and a growing list of volunteers, decided to take action to save the parade. Within a week, the duo had secured participation of several boat owners, charter captains, and local businesses.
“We said, ‘you know what? Let’s just step up,” Ruiz said of her decision to host a community has been overwhelmingly positive, Ruiz said, with numerous volunteers stepping forward to ask how they can help. “They’ve all been, ‘We’re so glad you’re doing this, (that) somebody has stepped up to spearhead it. What do you need from our help?” she said.
So far, at least 10 boats have pledged commitments to participate, as well as least four charter captains, who will pilot boats loaded with passengers along the parade route.
The South Padre Island Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) stepped up to offer prize money, as well. “We value the boat parade,” said CVB Director Keith Arnold Wednesday. He spoke of the event’s importance as a tourist draw, which helps the local economy through hotel stays and patronage to local restaurants and businesses.
The CVB’s decision to help was an easy one, he added, saying its promotion is in line with the Bureau’s efforts to increase off-season visits to the area. “Our whole thrust right now really is to work on the off-season… what we’re trying to do is develop more weekend special events,” he said.
The Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce has been doing all it can to help the boat parade’s community organizers, as well. Betty Wells, Chamber director, said her organization has been helping to provide images for use in promotional materials,” We know what’s involved in putting on an event of that magnitude and we’re glad they picked up the ball,” Wells said.
“People are really coming together to embrace it,” Ruiz said.
The boat parade will take place on Sunday, Dec. 18 beginning at 6:00 p.m. The parade route will begin at Southpoint Marina in Port Isabel before making its way through the channel, underneath the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway, and along the South Padre Island coastline to Jim’s Pier, where judging will take place. The awards ceremony will be held at Louie’s Backyard.
By Dina Arevalo