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SpaceX has finished installing a second ground station antenna at its future Boca Chica spaceport for the purpose of tracking Crew Dragon missions to the International Space Station beginning in 2018.

Crew Dragon is the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company’s seven-seat spacecraft designed to carry humans to the ISS and other destinations. A SpaceX spokesman said the antennas will also be used to track flights from Boca Chica once they’re underway.

The company acquired the 86-ton antennas from NASA’s KennedySpaceCenter at Cape Canaveral and transported them to Boca Chica via semitrailer. The first antenna was installed this summer.

The Boca Chica site broke ground in September 2014. Later, 310,000 cubic yards of soil were trucked in over a period of months to stabilize the area. No concrete has been poured other than the antenna bases and no structures have been erected, though the STARGATE Technology Park, a public-private partnership between the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and SpaceX, is under construction across State Hwy. 4. No date has been set for the first launch from Boca Chica.

The company said it has completed 16 launches so far in 2017, including Monday’s launch of a Korean commercial communications satellite from KennedySpaceCenter.

“While SpaceX’s launch cadence has never been higher, and even as our teams have worked to modernize and improve our other launch complexes, we have continued to make progress on building the first-ever orbital commercial spaceport in South Texas,” said the spokesman.

Meanwhile, the company is at work developing its Interplanetary Transportation System, nicknamed “BFR,” which SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk plans to use to transport humans to Mars for the purposes of colonization. BFR, which stands for “Big F— Rocket,” would feature 31 main engines propelling a spacecraft capable of carrying about 100 people.

Musk gave an update of his Mars plans at a meeting of the International Astronautical Congress on Sept. 29 in Australia, during which he said the company plans to launch its first non-crewed flights to Mars by 2022. If all goes well, the first crewed flights to Mars would take place in 2024, he said.


1. Boo at the Zoo

The Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville will hold its 28th annual Boo at the Zoo celebration tonight and tomorrow night. The event runs from 6 to 9 p.m. each night. There will be a trick-or-treating experience for kids, teens and adults alike with more than 50 treat and game stations located throughout the zoo. There also will be a haunted house and mermaid show.

2. Designing for a cure

One of the most unique and fun experiences you will have. Colorful, creative and innovative table settings will pack Casa de Amistad, 1204 Fair Park Boulevard, on Thursday, Nov. 2, all with the goal in mind to raise money to battle cancer. Now, the night event is already sold out, but you can see all the table settings and enjoy some great food during a special daytime preview from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost is $25 and funds raised goes to the American Cancer Society.

3. Dia de los Muertos

It’s a traditional Mexican celebration of the memories of friends and loved ones who have passed away. This event, at the Harlingen Arts and Heritage museum, 2425 Boxwood, features altars designed by people of the community. Music will be provided by Grupo Americantos ad a dance drama by Matachine Dancers. The event runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday through Monday, Nov. 2 through Nov. 12.

4. Fall Festival and BBQ Cookoff “Que For Kids”

The first annual Harlingen Area Educational Foundation Fall Festival and BBQ cookoff “Que for Kids will be held Saturday, Nov. 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Lon C. Hill Park. This free event is open to the public and will have games, food, music and a guaranteed payout to the winners.

5. SPI Open Water Festival

Open Water Plant returns to South Padre Island this upcoming weekend. Challenge yourself to conquer the Laguna Madre with a variety of distances. There is a full weekend of activities that will allow you to enjoy the island and nature.


The city is going to spend big bucks to advertise the Island state and Valley wide.

A $2.8 million contract with the Atkins Group, a San Antonio advertising agency, was agreed upon by city officials to continue marketing the Island recently.

The Atkins Group takes care of marketing the Island in the state’s largest cities, airports and Mexico with a multimedia strategy.

They also work on the city website and adverting campaigns with the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But it was found that only 3 percent of last year’s marketing budget went to advertising the Island to the Valley.

“We haven’t been spending as much as we should be in the Rio Grande Valley but we are working on that and trying to improve it,” said Dennis Stahl, SPI mayor-elect.

City leaders were recently introduced to the idea of owning the 100-mile area.

To help the city own the area, it has set aside another $150,000 to advertise the Island to the Valley.

“They don’t have to drive seven hours in a car,” Stahl said. “They can get here this weekend if they wanted to.”

Stahl recalls when people from McAllen would drive here for dinner.

“But, they are just not doing that anymore,” Stahl said. “They have lots of choices, but only one beach.”

The city approved a consulting partnership with Berkeley Young Consulting.

Young Strategies has worked with more than 100 destinations in 27 states since 2004.

“We want to continue to remind them that we welcome them to their closest Island,” Stahl said. “We want as many people to come to the Island as possible.”

Stahl said Berkeley Young is helping the Island improve knowing “who our customers are and who we should be targeting.”

“We are trying to make sure the Rio Grande Valley knows about us,” Stahl said. “They can go to Main Event or all the other places, and we’re in competition for those dollars.”


The next mayor of South Padre Island has a big vision for his town – to make it a world class tourist resort.

Dennis Stahl is currently SPI’s mayor pro-tem. He is also the only candidate on the November ballot to succeed Mayor Barry Patel, who decided not to seek re-election.

“There is confidence on the island, a lot of confidence in the leadership and the direction we are headed. We have a great city council,” Stahl said, in a recent interview with Ron Whitlock of Ron Whitlock Reports at Cafe Karma on South Padre Island.

“We recently improved Gulf Boulevard. We are in the process right now of spending over $9.2 million to make this a more pedestrian-friendly island, with concrete ADA-compatible sidewalks on both sides of Padre Boulevard and raised medians all the way. The vision is to make SPI a world class visitor resort and a great home for residents. We have a ways to go but we are making good progress.”

ADA stands for American Disability Act.

A crucial component in making South Padre Island a world-class beach resort, Stahl believes, is getting a second causeway built. The project is a top priority for Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority and environmental studies are underway.

“We recently had our 9/15 ceremony, to remember those who died when the Isabela Causeway collapsed back in 2001. “When the barge hit the causeway and we had the collapse, we were separated from the mainland. We were ferried back and forth. It caused irreparable harm,” Stahl said.

“We need a second causeway. Right now, the island is really only three and a half miles long by half a mile wide. We have a lot more opportunities and a lot more beautiful beach north of here we would eventually like the city to grow into. The second causeway would make it very easier to get to the northern end of South Padre Island.”

Whitlock pointed out that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz supports efforts to get President Trump to issue an executive order to grant environmental approval for a second causeway. Stahl said he supports Cruz’s efforts.

As Mayor Patel points out, South Padre Island relies a lot of tourists from Mexico. However, while some cities in the Rio Grande Valley have seen their sales tax revenues drop as a result of the impact the Peso’s devaluation has had on the spending power of Mexican visitors, SPI’s numbers have held up well.

Year to date, with ten months of reporting in, South Padre Island’s sales tax collections are up 5.95 percent. For the most recent month analyzed, August 2017, SPI’s sales tax revenues plunged 7.67 percent. This, Stahl said, was because of the fear of Hurricane Harvey hitting the island in the last week of August. Fortunately, SPI dodged a bullet and the hurricane made landfall further north. Stahl said he is confident South Padre will bounce back and the sales tax revenues will continue to go up.

“I am concerned about the August number, but due to our council’s approval of a $400,000 marketing budget inviting visitors from upstate Texas to come and experience our island, and a $100,000 marketing campaign in the Rio Grande Valley, we are reminding folks and asking them to tell their family and friends, that we were not affected by Harvey and are open for business,” Stahl told Whitlock.

“I’m confident that things will continue to rebound once people know the truth of the fact that Harvey did not hit, or cause any damage to SPI. Our message is, if you have not been here we would love to have you.”

Stahl said he had great sympathy for those living in the Coastal Bend that were affected by Hurricane Harvey.

“There by the grace of God go we. I grew up in San Antonio and as a child, and even into adulthood, Port Aransas was my beach, Rockport was my fishing home. We have three dear friends who lost their homes in Rockport. And I never visited South Padre Island until I was 38 years old. To a degree we compete for visitors with Port Aransas and Rockport but I really feel they would come to our assistance as we are trying to do for them. We have raised money and truck loads of product to send to them. This is Texans supporting Texans.”

Asked if he would like to add any other comment, Stahl said: “If you have not been to South Padre Island, we would love to have you. We are working to make the visitor experience an outstanding experience for you.”

Thousands of visitors ebbed and flowed around the sand sculptures on display last weekend, undeterred by the high tides which had threatened to destroy the master sand sculptures early in the week.

Local sand artists Lucinda “Sandy Feet” Wierenga and Walter “Amazin’ Walter” McDonald created the event three decades ago, with Lucinda noting, “As far as I know, we’re the only ones who have been here for all 30.”

McDonald marveled at the longevity of the event, saying, “Holy mackerel, how things have changed, what an event we still have here. Now we have sand sculptors from around the world, but we started out as just a bunch of fools on the beach having fun – 30 years later, it still works for us.”

But it was a 30th anniversary that almost wasn’t. A full harvest moon, along with a low pressure system created by Tropical Storm Nate in the Gulf of Mexico combined to form an abnormally high tide just as the master sand sculptors began to work on their sculptures. The rising waters began to undercut the mounds of sand, and soon, little of the beach behind Clayton’s Beach Bar was left.

The City of South Padre Island sprang into action, sending a work crew with heavy machinery to construct two large berms to carve out a strip of sand safe from the surf. “It was like a perfect storm for an incredibly high tide. And I have to tell you, I’m so impressed with the City and what they have done to mitigate the damage after the first day,” Wierenga said.

“It was a mess and they cleaned everything up.”

Sculptors must be invited in order to compete at Sandcastle Days. The sculptors themselves vote to determine first, second and third place winners, with the People’s Choice award determined by which sand artist garners the most tips throughout the event.

This year there were 12 master sculptors, with organizers adding a 13th sculptor who created a photo-op design that visitors could have their pictures taken with. Usually, each sand artist creates their own sand sculpture, but the event had to be altered this year, due to unusually high tides destroying the preliminary work done in the beginning of the competition. Due to time constraints, the sand artists worked in pairs to create team designs.


The South Padre Island City Council addressed issues related to the proposed Clayton’s Fishing Pier during their October 4 meeting.

Mayor Barry Patel recused himself from all the agenda items related to the pier and turned control of the meeting over to Mayor Pro-Tem Dennis Stahl.

First up regarding this issue was the City’s proposed annexation plan. As discussed in other meetings, 600 feet of the proposed pier extending out into the Gulf of Mexico would sit outside of the City’s current jurisdiction. Dr. Sungman Kim, director of development services, provided a presentation on the City’s proposed plan to annex the area in question.

Kim explained the process could be completed as soon as February 2018 if started now, and could be completed even sooner if Council is willing to hold special meetings in order to meet all the required steps. Council voted unanimously to approve the proposed annexation plan and agreed to an expedited meeting schedule.

Stahl then opened a public hearing on changing the zoning of the beach area around the proposed pier from its current designation of District B, Multi-family dwelling, apartment, motel, hotel, condominium, townhouse district, to District PBN (Padre Boulevard North) Character zone.

“I think this is just the perfect venue for South Padre Island. This is something that I would take all my kids to,” said the general manager of the Ramada Hotel, one of several community members who spoke in support of the pier and the related rezoning.

Island resident Shane Wilson questioned why the rezoning did not include beach areas farther south of the proposed pier in front of the Tiki Condominiums.


In just a few weeks the Triton Series swings back into South Texas for the 2nd Annual South Padre Island Open Water Festival. Hosted by Rowdy Gaines and directed by well known race director Gregg Cross, the SPI OWF is vibrant proof of the explosive growth that open water swimming and open water sports have experienced across the board in coastal South Texas.

“This island is so unique in the variety of opportunities it provides for training and racing. Our goal with this festival was to create an annual celebration of open water swimming and life by the water in general. It truly is a lifestyle unlike any other, and we are proud to help South Texas welcome the rest of the world to come check it out” explained Casey Taker, Triton Series C.O.O. in an interview last week. “This sport is all about community, we just want to provide an avenue for that community to connect and enjoy an amazing weekend in the water.”

Host Rowdy Gaines (photo: Mike Lewis, Ola Vista Photography)

The South Padre Island Open Water Festival features events including a Sunday November 5th TRITON ONE (1 mile) and TRITON SELECT (5k) in Laguna Madre Bay. Saturday November 4th activities will include a TRITON SPRINT event and other beach training opportunities on the ocean side of the island. All TRITON events will count towards the TRITON SERIES TEXAS CHAMPIONSHIP to be awarded at the end of the weekend. Championship categories include male, female and team categories.

With a focus on community, Triton is making team discounts available for groups of all sizes. In addition, there are event scholarships available to swimmers who were affected by Hurricane Harvey earlier this fall. Information on either of these opportunities can be obtained by emailing info@openwaterplanet.com.

The SPI Open Water Festival is one of many athletic events that has been added to the yearly South Padre Island calendar over the last few years. The island seems to be quickly developing into a tri-athlete and all around aquatic athlete destination powerhouse, and the Triton Series has even hinted at a goal of installing year around open water courses on the island over the next few years.

Register Now for the South Padre Island Open Water Festival! www.southpadreswim.com

About Open Water Planet

Open Water Planet (OWP) was created to provide the open water sports community a place to call their own. We are spread all over the world but we are alike in so many ways. We work hard, we play hard. There is always an excuse to travel and the thrills are all the reward we need. Our pools have no walls and the lanes are ever-changing. OWP spreads it’s core message of never fearing the unknown through the company’s series of open water events, clinics, swim travel, training programs and custom gear. All specifically aimed at helping those passionate about the water to get where they want to go.








Mayor Barry Patel sent a message to the Paul Y. Cunningham Jr. family, asking for its permission to rename the South Padre Island city hall after its patriarch.

Cunningham could share stories about riding over to the Island and much, much more. He had stories about the planning of the Island and stories of when he defended the Island from being annexed to Port Isabel.

This week the Island will rename city hall after Cunningham for the leadership and guidance he provided to the city’s growth. He went on to become the Island’s first and only city attorney until his death earlier this year.

“Mr. Cunningham has been an instrumental part of the city for more than 40 years,” said Susan Guthrie, SPI city manager. “This building will serve as a permanent tribute to his service to our community.”

The City of South Padre Island invites the public to the building dedication ceremony in honor of Cunningham’s dedication and contribution to the city. The ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at city hall, located at, 4601 Padre Blvd.

“It’s our small way of showing our appreciation for all the work he has done for the City of South Padre Island,” Patel said. “He was an outstanding city attorney, and had guided the city through many trials and tribulations through the years.”

Cunningham served as the city attorney from South Padre Island’s incorporation in 1973 to February 2017. Cunningham, 74, died after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. He was first diagnosed in October 2016.

He served on the planning and zoning board prior to becoming the city attorney, a post he held for more than 40 years.

“He was a one-of-a-kind man and attorney,” said Bob Pinkerton, former SPI mayor, in an earlier interview. “I served 22 years with him on the council.”

Pinkerton said there was no one better to help guide the city leaders.

“He knew how to put issues and problems into perspective,” Pinkerton said. “He’s going to be missed by many.”

By RAUL GARCIA Staff Writer

When local sand sculptor Lucinda Wierenga stepped onto the beach by Clayton’s on Thursday morning, she felt terror.

The preparations she and her fellow sculptors had made the night before for Sandcastle Days were washed away by a high tide.

“This is not going to work at all, so what do we do?” Wierenga recalled thinking at the time.

Twelve sculptors, nine of whom are from other parts of the country and the world, had traveled for the competition. The free event offers many activities for families, and every year huge crowds turn out for Sandcastle Days, one of the most popular events on the Island.

Sculptors were busy at work on their creations yesterday, but not before some teamwork came together to make the event possible.

On Thursday, Adolfo Zamora, manager of Clayton’s, said his boss — Clayton Brashear — decided to make a call.

“A lot of people were saying it was going to be canceled because of the high tide, but my boss called the city right away,” Zamora said. “Everyone came to help.”

Brandon Hill, shoreline director for the City of South Padre Island, said that after receiving the call Thursday morning, city crews were on sight within 30 minutes to rectify the situation.

About 450 cubic yards of sand was brought in from Olmito Sand Pit LLC, and barriers were constructed Thursday and Friday to protect the sand sculptures from being washed away again.

“When it comes to things like Sandcastle Days, which is such a pivotal event for the Island, failure is never an option,” Hill said. “It wasn’t a question of were we going to help, but rather how can we help?”

At that point, it was not about the money or the competition anymore, Zamora said.

“We decided, let’s build something for the event, for everyone that’s going. We didn’t want to cancel, so we got (the sculptors) together to build six sand sculptures,” Zamora said.

The sculptors were split into teams of two and merged their ideas together to create something new.

“It’s really been a year of unity for everyone. The sculptors teamed up, the amateurs teamed up, everyone came together,” Hill said.


A four-year hiatus for vehicle traffic on popular Bayside Drive at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge may be coming to an end.

In part to help counter a major decline in visitors since 2013, Laguna Atascosa officials are proposing to reopen the road with some significant changes in what would be a $4.015 million project.

The closure of the popular nature drive to vehicles came after two endangered ocelots were killed by cars on the road despite a 25-mph speed limit. A later ocelot fatality on nearby Buena Vista Road in 2009 sealed the fate of Bayside Drive and its vehicular traffic.

While it was a “tough call” then, refuge Manager Boyd Blihovde said the threat posed by vehicles to the refuge’s 15 or so endangered ocelots made it the right thing to do after trying things like lowering the speed limit to 15 mph.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife official said since that decision to close Bayside Drive, he and the staff at Laguna Atascosa have been trying to find a way to reach a better balance when it comes to visitor access to the refuge. Since 2013, Bayside Drive has only been open to bicyclists and hikers.

But Blihovde said re-opening Bayside Drive would provide an avenue for people who are physically unable to hike, or ride a 15-mile loop on a bicycle, to use the refuge, too.

“We can buy all the land we want and fence it off and say, ‘Nobody can come in here and enjoy this place,’” Blihovde said. “If we do that, we’re not going to get much support from the public, the folks that we work for, the U.S. citizen. Taxpayer dollars are what pay our salaries and buy the land, and we have a responsibility to not only protect wildlife but also give the public a chance to enjoy it.”

What would change

The new proposal would make Bayside Drive a two-way road instead of a 15-mile, one-way loop. It would be widened and opened to traffic over 8.2 miles with a turnaround to be built at the Redhead Ridge parking area.

The southern part of the route on Bayside Drive, where the two ocelots were killed eight years ago, would remain closed.

The proposed changes are laid out in a draft environmental assessment which also includes a number of improvements to the overall refuge, including paving roads and parking lots.

Blihovde encourages those interested in the proposal to help by giving feedback, either by writing a letter to him addressed to the refuge headquarters or via email at boyd_blihovde@fws.gov using EA/Bayside Wildlife Drive” in the subject line.

“This is the public’s chance to give us criticism, or to suggest something different,” he said. “If somebody has a suggestion or something that’s different from what we’ve looked at, we’d definitely take that into consideration and go back to the drawing board.”

The new road would become an out-and-back drive open to vehicles on Fridays and Saturdays, with Sundays and Mondays reserved for bicycle riders. Hikers and bicyclists have had access to the road since it was closed to vehicles in 2013.

How we got here

The closure of Bayside Drive was unpopular with many people, although most understood the importance of limiting the exposure of ocelots to vehicles.

But the refuge nonetheless saw a significant reduction in visitors, and the refuge’s environmental assessment says visits to the refuge are down 34 percent since Bayside Drive was closed to traffic.

Blihovde said despite the support the endangered ocelots have, his experience shows public backing for programs intended to protect endangered species can prove fickle.

“I’ve managed manatees, sea turtles and numerous endangered species, and I’ve seen the public turn against species that were protected because the agency had to do so much to protect them, like close properties, control the speed of boats for manatees and different things like that,” Blihovde said.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer