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Buoyed by the phenomenal success of last year’s habitat restoration effort, officials at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge are seeking volunteers for another planting of native species at the refuge.

In early 2017, 34 acres were sown on a refuge plot in hopes of accelerating what can be a two-decade wait to fully re-establish native Tamaulipan thorn scrub.

By using an innovative technique of sheltering each seedling in a white plastic sleeve, the experiment showed a 93-percent survival rate for snake eyes, or devil queen; Texas torchwood; crucita or Christmas bush; trixis or American threefold; lantana; Berlandier croton; and manzanita, or Barbados cherry.

Previous habitat restoration plantings in the Rio GrandeValley showed a seedling survival rate of between 20 and 30 percent as white-tailed deer, nilgai, feral hogs, javelina, rats and rabbits mowed down the tender new plants before they had a chance.

Some plots had a success rate of zero.

This year, between 8 a.m. and noon March 10, volunteers will help U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service workers plant 30,000 seedlings inside the white tubes adjacent to the previous plot to create ocelot-friendly habitat.

By RICK KELLEY | Staff Writer

he dream of bringing cruise ships to South Padre Island isn’t new, though it’s always remained just that: a dream.

But the Island’s time may have finally come. That’s according to Jay Lewis, president of Miami, Fla.-based MarketScope Inc., who recently formed SPI Cruise Group with other travel industry experts for the purpose of developing the Island as a port-of-call for cruise lines.

Specifically, the Island is envisioned as a stop for western Caribbean cruises, likely those leaving out of Galveston, which has a booming cruise industry. Lewis, an industry veteran, formed SPI Cruise Group with IDEA, a planning design firm currently at work on Port Grand Lucaya on Grand Bahama Island; industry consultant Cruise and Port Advisors; and Newman PR, which counts among its clients the Florida Keys tourism council and Carnival Cruise Lines.

In the past, Lewis had consulted with the Port of Brownsville about the possibility of establishing a full-fledged cruise-ship port, though the port decided not to pursue it. He realized, however, that the Island possessed the “necessary and sufficient conditions” to potentially succeed as a port-of-call — basically a day-excursion destination for cruise ships.

Lewis made a compelling case to SPI’s municipal leaders, who signed on to a $100,000 expenditure to launch Phase 1, which will entail a sustained, aggressive marketing and communications campaign to get the attention of cruise industry executives. That effort will take place between now and mid-March, leading up to the Seatrade Global Cruise Conference taking place that month in Fort Lauderdale.

At that event, the cruise industry’s most important international conference, SPI representatives will be able to pitch the Island as a port-of-call to cruise industry executives.

“It is very much at the beginning stage,” Lewis said. “Right now, cruise lines are relatively unaware that South Padre Island exists. We’re not starting from square one. We’re starting from square zero.”

In addition to generating publicity for the Island, the next two and a half months will be spent actively pursuing meetings with cruise-line itinerary planners, the people who decide where the ships dock. SPI Cruise Group has an edge since all its members have industry connections built over many years, Lewis said.

“At least we’re not coming out of the blue,” he said. “We’re a known quantity. If we request a meeting, it’s a good bet they’ll sit down.”

Also working in the Island’s favor are unique tourist assets compared to other ports-of-call — such as Sea Turtle Inc., the SPI Birding Center, and seven miles of unspoiled beach, Lewis said.

“Eco-tourism is a hot button these days,” he said.

There’s also horseback riding, deep-sea fishing and “all the things you can’t do in Minneapolis, Minn.,” Lewis said. Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville and King Ranch also make the list of attractions, he said.

Also, as traditional ports-of-call in the eastern Caribbean, such as St. Martin, are becoming “worn out” from too many visitors, cruise lines are looking for alternatives, while the cruise industry itself is exploding, Lewis said.

“The demand is so great that the shipyards can’t keep up with the demand from the cruise lines,” he said. “It’s big business, and it’s growing like crazy.”

All of this increases the odds that, in the not-too-distant future, cruise ships may be mooring off the SPI coast. The preferred option is to build a pier at which ships can dock, though another alternative is “tendering” passengers to and from shore in smaller vessels, Lewis said.

SPI City Manager Susan Guthrie said one thing she likes about the SPI Cruise Group project is that it’s not costing huge amounts of money up front. Rather, it’s incremental, with various “go, no-go” points along the way to help officials determine whether to proceed, she said.

“If there’s interest we’ll go to the next step,” Guthrie said.

With the help of SPI Cruise Group, Island officials will make the strongest pitch possible to cruise industry representatives, she said. Meanwhile, getting cruise ships to dock at the Island would have huge ramifications economically, Guthrie said.

“The original estimate was just one large ship a week could have up to a $19 million economic impact to the community,” she said.

Also, it would help plug a big hole in the Island’s economy during the offseason, Guthrie said. The peak season for cruise lines is November through April, which coincides with the slowest time of the year on the Island, she said.

And while launching a project of this size can be “a little bit scary,” the Island is right to pursue this one, Guthrie said.

“We really need to be positive and put our best effort forward, and go for it,” she said. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

By STEVE CLARK Staff Writer

Clayton Breasher, owner of Clayton’s Beach Bar & Grill on South Padre Island, says he’s excited as his highly anticipated fishing pier project moves forward.

In 2016, Basher announced an expansion of his beach venue that would include a fishing pier.

Brashear says visiting several piers throughout the country is what convinced him to build his very own, with the overall goal of creating business year-round for the island.

Something the city has supported since the start.

“The idea is that it’ll bring more tourism to the South Padre Island, ” Brashear said.

At the moment, Brashear is in the engineering phase of the project. Once that is completed, he will take it to the city for approval before moving on to the construction phase.

South Padre Island City Manager Susan Guthrie says since the announcement, city staff has helped with area zoning and annexing to help get that approved.

“In terms of what the city needs to do, we have done all of our processes,” Guthrie said. “When [Brashear] actually goes to start building, he’ll need to put a building permit. But, other than that his work with the city is pretty much wrapped up.”

Not all are in favor of the project, as some are concerned about trash, shoreline erosion and possible shark attacks.

However, the city has conducted research and assures residents and visitors that this will be a postie asset to the island.

by Abril Preciado


Officials from around Cameron County gathered Wednesday at Isla Blanca Park for the groundbreaking of new facilities that are slated to open by late summer.

The $6.2 million project, funded through the county’s hotel and car rental taxes, includes an amphitheater that will seat 4,000 and a 6,800-square-foot multipurpose building.

“When this park is renovated and updated, there won’t be a park in the country more beautiful,” County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. said.

The amphitheater will provide an ideal view to watch SpaceX rocket launches, like the one Tuesday, that take place on Boca Chica Beach, Precinct 1 Commissioner Sofia Benavides said.

“As God would have it, we have Isla Blanca Park right across the ship channel,” she said.

County Parks Director Joe Vega said the multipurpose building will have audio and video equipment and will seat up to 250 people.

Also in Isla Blanca Park, the county will spend $17 million in gulf-side improvements and $13 million is RV site improvements, Trevino said. The parks department is wrapping up $3.5 million in upgrades at EK Atwood Park.

By Nadia Tamez-Robledo Staff Writer


In the past couple of years the Texas Department of Transportation has built corridors in several locations in Cameron County to help wildlife make it across the busy highways.

Today TxDOT released a photo of an endangered ocelot using the corridor under Highway 48 in the Brownsville area.

The picture, which was taken with a motion sensor camera in April 2017, shows the ocelot coming out of the brush near the corridor opening and almost looking straight into the camera.

Similar corridors were added to Highway 100 East of Los Fresnos and FM 106 East of Rio Hondo near Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Wildlife experts hope the animals use the underground concrete tunnels to avoid being struck by vehicles. Over the years a number of ocelots have been killed on roads in eastern Cameron County.

TxDOT says it has an environmental affairs division that is responsible for integrating environment considerations into all road and highway projects.

By Diana Eva Maldonado, Staff writer