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Winter Texans, RV enthusiasts, South Padre Island lovers and locals alike will be able to reserve spots at the Isla Blanca RV Park starting Jan. 15.

Reservations had been on hold for the summer months of 2018 because of planned renovations to Isla Blanca Park, including upgrades to the RV park.

Earlier this week, the Cameron County Commissioners Court approved its new policy.

County Judge Eddie Trevino said that the changes are meant to make the reservation policy more fair.

“For decades, individuals had monopoly on a space,” Trevino said. “What was happening before is when people check in in May, they reserve for next May.”

Precinct 2 Commissioner Alex Dominguez also believes this system will be better and more equal for parkgoers.

“We’re not doing this to be mean to anybody,” Dominguez said. “We’re just trying to give everyone a fair chance to enjoy our parks.”

Now, parkgoers will have to wait until Jan. 15 each year to reserve spots in Isla Blanca.

Also, commissioners approved limiting reservations during the peak summer season for up to three months and during the off season for up to six months. And, the county is doing away with weekly rental rates, limiting reservations to a daily or monthly basis.

But come Jan. 15, 2018, the Cameron County Parks Department expects it will be deluged with reservation requests, which have been put on hold since last May — a source of contention for many longtime RV park visitors who sought to claim their spots for 2018.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Sofia Benavides said there are lots of people waiting to reserve for the summer of 2018.

“I feel that maybe you’re going to be swamped with people who are upset,” Benavides said.

Cameron County Parks Director Javier Vega said his employees are expecting just that.

“We will be swamped,” Vega said. “It’s going to be chaotic and hectic that day.”

Making matters more complicated is that a planned online reservation system won’t be available for this year’s summer season. That won’t be ready until late April or early March, Vega said.

Reservations can only be made over the phone or by visiting the office at Isla Blanca Park.

“To reserve, they have to call our reservation office or come into our reservation office,” Vega said, prompting Benavides, who represents South Padre Island, to say she has apprehensions about it.

“We’re going to have to open it (up to reservations) one day or another,” Vega said.

Another big change to the RV park policies include no longer providing RV park visitors with two paper entrance passes. Now, anyone staying one month or longer will have to purchase those.

“They can buy up to two,” Vega said, explaining that change stems from people abusing the paper passes by sharing or selling them.

Also, RV park visitors will not be able to use generators, gas or diesel, unless there is an emergency situation or power outage.

All the policy changes take effect Jan. 1.

By MARK REAGAN Staff Writer

 

Cold stunned Green Atlantic turtles small and large were saved by Sea Turtle Inc. earlier this week after water temperatures dropped in the Laguna Madre recently.

These cold-stunned sea turtles were rescued by Sea Turtle Inc. and taken to its facilities to warm up. The rehab center says the turtles have been rehabilitated, are all active and ready to go back in the water.

According to Sanjuanna Zavala, Sea Turtle Inc. marketing manager said cold water temperatures caused sea turtles to become vulnerable to hypothermia, and many were found floating or washed up ashore suffering from “cold-stun.”

The turtles will be released at the island Wednesday at noon.

By RAUL GARCIA Staff Writer

It’s an entrance many people in the Rio Grande Valley have gone through in the past 30 years, to get to the jetties or Isla Blanca Park.

Now a man is facing charges for ramming into it and destroying it.

People on South Padre Island woke up to unfamiliar sights, the snow and the concrete Isla Blanca Park entrance structure caved-in.

“Oh my gosh, we thought it was the wind,” Theresa Collins said, “You know because we’ve had that horrible wind.”

Park officials told CHANNEL 5 NEWS this was no act of nature.

“At about approximately 11:30 last night a vehicle ran into the toll booth into the entrance canopy of Isla Blanca Park,” Cameron County Parks Director Joe Vega said. “Basically, it destroyed the toll booth and made the canopy collapse.”

Cameron County Parks Police Chief Horacio Zamora said a white 2017 Dodge Ram 3500 mega cab, took down the structure, causing an estimated $450,000 worth of damage.

The chief said the driver, Devin Scott Holley, left the scene.

Today, he turned himself in and is now facing charges for hitting the structure and not reporting the accident.

Winter Texans living at the RV park told us they were surprised by the damage.

“I have no idea, I’ve never seen this before,” said Jim Hass. “It’s pretty bad whatever happened.”

Vega said the Isla Blanca Park will soon undergo about $30 million worth of renovations. They weren’t expecting to deal with a redesign of the entrance just yet. They’ll have to move-up plans to renovate the entrance.

“We want to do something that’s going to compliment the improvements that we are currently doing at Isla Blanca Park,” he said.

Vega is hoping this won’t keep visitors away from the park for the winter season. He said the park remains open for business.

Those who plan to visit Isla Blanca Park will have to go through a temporary side entrance and toll booth that has been set-up to the right-hand side.

Right now, park police are still investigating why Holley allegedly ran into the canopy.

 

More than 200 brown pelicans were rescued by volunteers along State Highway 48 Thursday, which was in stark contrast to a vehicular massacre of the birds one year ago.

The “Pelican Team” was created following two storm-filled days last December after cold fronts created conditions forcing pelicans onto the roadway that stretches from Port Isabel to Brownsville. Between 60 and 100 birds perished under the wheels of vehicles along a stretch of highway with a 75-mph speed limit.

This year between a dozen and two dozen birds were lost, but the numbers were far fewer due to the efforts of the Pelican Team as well as the Texas Department of Public Safety, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas General Land Office, Texas game wardens, Good Samaritans and the Port Isabel Volunteer Fire Department.

“Thinking back and talking with people today, I think we probably pulled off the road in total something around 150 birds,” said team member Justin LeClaire, a wildlife biologist. “I know I personally grabbed and moved across the road 24 by myself and there were 10 of us out there.”

Other pelicans were flushed from the roadway to safety.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we saved at least 200 pelicans yesterday,” he added.

LeClaire said team members began operating about 2 p.m. Thursday when pelicans trying to escape the high winds from the strong cold front began dropping on State Highway 48 as they attempted to fly from the Brownsville Ship Channel into the Bahia Grande Unit of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Due to how the roadway is constructed, particularly the barriers on both sides of Highway 48 and the center divider, when the wind is just right out of the north or northwest it creates conditions that push flying pelicans down onto the roadway.

The barriers intensify high winds on the sides but leave a dead zone over the roadway which causes pelicans to flop onto the asphalt where they are vulnerable to vehicles.

“Winds are hitting the barriers and the causeway in general and being forced up over it, and when they’re forced up it really speeds up the wind,” LeClaire said. “In that first lane … there’s this void of air, there’s no air flow going on there. But above it is this increased wind speed.

“The pelicans are flying low down the Gayman Channel from the Ship Channel trying to get into Bahia and they go up and just don’t have enough air going over the road,” he added. “They hit that super-fast wind and they basically stop and slowly cruise downward and they get so low it seems like they hit that pocket of dead air and they just don’t know how to handle it and they just fall out of the air from about five feet up.”

TxDOT has studied the barriers and the effect they have on flying pelicans using a wind tunnel to simulate conditions like those that occurred Thursday afternoon between 2 p.m. and dusk. TxDOT workers also put out flashing signs warning motorists of the pelicans on the roadway and urging them to slow down.

“TxDOT has basically now determined that the barrier is the issue, and they’re contracting for the next phase of this study,” said Nicole Ekstrom, president of Friends of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and an organizer of the Pelican Team although she wasn’t out on the highway Thursday. “They need more studies so that they can determine which kind of configuration would work.

“TxDOT is all about the safety of motorists so they can’t remove the outside barriers or you’d fly off the bridge and they can’t remove the middle barrier because of potential head-on collisions,” added Ekstrom, who also is a wildlife biologist.

Safety of human volunteers was at the forefront of Thursday’s action, with four DPS cruisers and three game wardens all with their vehicle lights flashing — and the Port Isabel Volunteer Fire Department.

Fire Marshal John Sandoval said his department responded to a request from the Cameron County Office of Emergency Management and sent a rescue truck and a command vehicle out late in the day to the Highway 48 site.

As the Pelican Team disbanded because of the danger from traffic in the unlit area after dark, Port Isabel firefighters took the next shift.

“We were trying to slow down traffic,” Sandoval said yesterday. “In previous years, it’s been a complete slaughter out there but I think we did a pretty good job of getting most of them out of the roadway.”

Sandoval said it appeared the conditions that cause the pelican deaths were moderating yesterday afternoon but his department was assessing the situation and would respond again if needed.

Pelicans, alas, show little appreciation in being rescued.

The birds, understandably disturbed by their flight difficulties over the highway, sometimes regurgitate fishy oil all over the rescuers.

Some injured birds were taken to the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville for treatment.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer

With the waters of the Laguna Madre awash in the colors of the holiday season, spectators gathered along the bay last Saturday evening to enjoy the South Padre Island and Port Isabel Annual Christmas Lighted Boat Parade.

More than 20 boats of all shapes and sizes participated in this year’s event, departing from South Point Marina in Port Isabel, crossing the Laguna Madre Bay, then cruising the shore of South Padre Island. The boat parade culminated at the Painted Marlin Grille for judging, with an awards ceremony at Louie’s Backyard immediately following.

Mike Valdiviez from Brownsville enjoyed his first ever boat parade, along with four generations of his family, including grandmother Timotea Montana. “The weather was real good, very nice for the kids to be here without coats,” Montana commented.

Her 8-year-old great grandson Misael Martinez agreed, saying that seeing Santa was his favorite part of the festivities.

Boats in the parade were judged on four specific criteria: first impression, theme, special effects and the amount of lights.Ahoy! Hoy! Hoy!

 

Authorities have issued an alert for motorists to watch for brown pelicans on roadways along the coast as a major cold front blows through.

Low temperatures and brisk northerly winds and rain sometimes lead pelicans to land on coastal highways and bridges, especially Queen Isabella Causeway to South Padre Island and Bahia Grande/Gayman Bridge area on State Highway 48.

National Weather Service forecasters noted volunteers and police also may be in or near these locations during the next couple of days and nights.

Two cold fronts 10 days apart one year ago led to the deaths of between 60 and 100 brown pelicans along State Highway 48 as they sought shelter along the roadway.

Forecasters urge motorists to exercise caution and slow down in these areas through this week, especially Wednesday night.

The cold front is expected to begin to approach and pass through the area tonight with colder air following Wednesday into Thursday.

Temperatures will drop quickly behind the cold front and will struggle to make it out of the upper 40s and low to mid-50s on Wednesday and Thursday.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer