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The city of South Padre Island continuing to pursue the cruise line industry. Island officials say the city’s EDC recently approved another $100,000 for a study.

It’s no secret that tourism is a large economic force in South Padre Island. As the summer season winds down, the destination city is looking to increase visitor counts for slow seasons. A possible solution are cruise ships. The mayor of South Padre Island says a study is underway and consultants are meeting at SPI this week.

Mayor Dennis Stahl, “Step one was to make sure the cruises wanted to come. And they do want to come to the island. Step 2 is developing and scouting out the right infrastructure. That’s happening this week.”

According to the mayor four cruise line companies have been in contact with South Padre Island.

Right now, SPI is pioneering the initiative and they’re looking to partner up with other agencies. Mayor Stahl says he doesn’t expect the landing facilities to be city owned.

“The probable landing site is in Isla Blanca Park or just to north of it. In that area.”

The city is trying to address a problem affecting business and industry. A problem that is forcing some to reduce staff, that is the off season, which happens to coincide with peak cruise season.

“We want to bring in hopefully thousands of new visitors during our cruise peak season.” says the mayor.

Business leaders say that any increase of traffic, especially during the off season, would stimulate the local economy. For now, the analysis continues.

The mayor say it’s still too early to make a final decision. Part of that study includes infrastructure and potential landing sites.

 

Frontier Airlines is bringing its low-cost air fares to the Rio Grande Valley.

Officials with Frontier and Valley International Airport announced yesterday that air passenger service between Harlingen and Denver and Harlingen and Chicago will begin in November.

“I’ll tell you what, I can hardly express my excitement about this big announcement, I can hardly talk,” said Marv Esterly, director of aviation for Valley International.

Flights from Harlingen to Chicago O’Hare Airport will be available on Wednesdays and Saturdays, departing Harlingen at 6:05 p.m. and departing Chicago at 1:54 p.m.

Flights to Denver will be available Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to Denver International Airport, departing Harlingen at 10:55 a.m. and departing Denver at 6:15 a.m.

All of Frontier’s passengers will fly the 180-seat Airbus 320.

“What that is going to mean is lower fares for the Rio Grande Valley than offered by anyone else,” said Daniel Schurz, Frontier’s senior vice president of commercial operations. “We can bring more passengers to this region, we’re going to bring more tourists into this region.”

About 200 officials, airport and airline executives, business people and media from Harlingen, South Padre Island, Cameron County and Mexico were present for the announcement.

“As the mayor would say, this is another great day for Harlingen, it’s a great day for South Padre Island, it’s a great day for Cameron County and the Rio Grande Valley,” said Harlingen Mayor Pro Tem Mike Mezmar. “So thank you for your confidence in our market and our demographics.”

A significant emphasis in yesterday’s announcement involved South Padre Island. Mayor Dennis Stahl said Island officials have been involved with Harlingen, county and airport officials in negotiations with Frontier for the previous eight months.

“We’re just so excited that Frontier is bringing its low-cast fares to this area,” Stahl said. “We appreciate it, and we’re going to fill up those planes.”

The Frontier announcement is just the latest good news for Valley International.

Just days ago airport officials announced the airport’s biggest project since 1990, a $15.5 million upgrade to replace 1930s-era concrete on taxiways and aircraft parking areas.

In May the airport opened a state-of-the-art, $3.8 million aircraft fire and rescue facility. The airport is currently undergoing a $1.2 million project to rip out the original late 1980s ceramic tile in the terminal building and replacing it with blue and gray epoxy terrazzo.

The airport also added new air chillers and fan coil units, a new HVAC system which has cut utility costs by 30 percent and new LED lighting. A new roof is coming next year.

Frontier Airlines becomes the fifth air passenger service at Valley International, a group which includes Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Sun Country Airlines and Delta Airlines.

Valley International also is an air cargo hub for DHL, Fedex and Southwest Cargo.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer

Providing portable restroom facilities for beach goers was once again the subject of debate at the Wednesday, Aug. 15 meeting of the South Padre Island City Council.

Council member Alita Bagley opened the discussion, reminding everyone that the topic was discussed and voted on in a previous Council meeting. During the July 18 meeting, Council voted to give Shoreline Management Director Brandon Hill approval to send a plan to the Texas General Land Office (GLO) for placing portable restrooms near some of the beach accesses.

“In my tenure with City Council there have been very few things that I voted on and then later had doubts whether or not it was the right decision, and this was one of those times,” Bagley said. “After thinking about so many additional issues, I started asking a lot more questions.” Bagley explained this was the reason she asked for the item to be revisited and that she had provided Hill with a list of questions to answer about his plan.

Hill responded by providing a presentation covering each of the areas of concern. The first item addressed was proving a list of all the beach accesses along Gulf Boulevard where a restroom could potentially be added. In addition to the existing facilities at the Gulf and Treasure Island accesses, Hill identified Sea Island, White Cap, Blue Water, Riviera, Daydream, Bougainville, Aquarius, Good Hope and Sapphire accesses.

“Council member Bagley also asked that we discuss the pricing associated with the alternatives,” reported Hill. Hill said it would cost $5,130 per month, or $61,500 per year, to provide six portable restroom units compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

To provide a fixed structure with more aesthetic appeal, or what Hill termed as ‘Island Way’ facilities, the cost was estimated at $116,516, plus an additional $6,000 per year required for maintenance.

Hill was also asked to provide beautification options for the portable structures. He displayed pictures of examples from other cities where the portable restrooms are enclosed inside of wooden structures of various designs and colors.

On the issue of drawbacks associated with placing restrooms on the beach, Hill stated that the naturally unstable and dynamic environment of the beach increases the risk for flooding and other hazards to impact the facilities. He also warned of the potential for contamination and beach closures resulting from spills. Hill also raised concerns about large vehicles that would need to drive on the beach to service the facilities and the damage they may cause to the dunes.

By KEVIN RICH

 

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao recently announced the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will award $616.9 million in airport infrastructure grants, as part of the total $3.18 billion in Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding for airports across the United States.

“The Department has been investing heavily in our nation’s airport infrastructure, which will strengthen economic growth and create jobs in communities across the country,” said Secretary Chao.

This fourth increment of funding provides 242 grants to 226 airports, and will fund 408 infrastructure projects. These include runways, taxiways, aprons, terminals, aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicles, snow removal equipment and two firefighting training facilities.

U.S. infrastructure, especially its 3,323 airports and 5,000 paved runways, increases the country’s competitiveness and improves the traveling public’s quality of life. According to the FAA’s most recent economic analysis, U.S. civil aviation accounts for $1.6 trillion in total economic activity and supports nearly 11 million jobs. Under the Secretary’s leadership, the Department is delivering AIP investments to strengthen the safety and efficiency of America’s airports.

Airports receive a certain amount of AIP entitlement funding each year based on activity levels and project needs. If their capital project needs exceed their available entitlement funds, the FAA can supplement their entitlements with discretionary funding.

The Projects

Among the grant awards announced are:

Aspen-Pitkin County/Sardy Field Airport in Aspen, Colo., $5.7 million – This project funds the design to relocate the existing Runway 15/33 for flight safety.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Ga., $17 million – The grant funds the final phase of a new 4,200-ft. taxiway around the approach end of Runway 9L. This project will enhance the safety and efficiency of airfield operations.
Guam International Airport in Tamuning, Guam, $16 million – The airport will use the funds to construct the final phase of a 30,000 square foot aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) building to help the airport meet safety requirements. The new facility will also extend the life of the ARFF equipment by protecting it from adverse weather conditions.
Sioux Gateway/Col Bud Day Field Airport in Sioux City, Iowa, $13 million – Funds will be used to reconstruct a portion of Runway 17/35 that has reached the end of its useful life.
Lafayette Regional/Paul Fournet Field Airport in Lafayette, La., $10 million – The grant funds the fourth phase of the project to construct a new terminal building for the airport.
Alpena County Regional Airport in Alpena, Mich., $9 million – The airport will use funds to construct the final phase of a new terminal building for the airport.
Olive Branch Airport in Olive Branch, Miss., $15 million – Funds will be used for the local community to acquire and control a 460-acre, privately-owned airport, the busiest general aviation airport in Mississippi.
Helena Regional Airport in Helena, Mont., $4.6 million – The grant will fund the final phase of an expansion project for the terminal building.
Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, N.C., $11 million – fFunds will be used to repair 10,000 ft. of Runway 5R/23L.
Akron-Canton Regional Airport in Akron, Ohio, $6 million – The airport will use the grant to repair the terminal building for more efficient movement of passengers and baggage. The grant will also fund the replacement of snow removal equipment to help keep the airport operational during winter weather events.
Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport in Brownsville, Texas, $2.3 million – Funds will be used to construct a new terminal building.
Appleton International Airport in Appleton, Wis., $12 million – The grant will fund the construction of a regional aircraft rescue and firefighting training facility to increase the access and frequency of training.

 

Monitoring efforts are underway at the state’s largest wetland restoration project in the Rio Grande Valley. Richard Moore takes us out with fisheries biologists who are sampling Bahia Grande’s expanding aquatic resources.

Bahia Grande, the sprawling 25,000-acre United States Fish and Wildlife tract just north of Highway 48 between Brownsville and Port Isabel, is the largest wetland restoration project in the state of Texas.

The 10,000 acres of wetlands being restored had been a vast dust bowl since being cut off from the Laguna Madre by the construction of the Brownsville ship Channel in the 1930’s.

After many years of cooperative effort with various groups, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the property in 2000 and in 2005 dug a pilot channel partially filling the wetland.

This abated the dust problem, but the channel needs to be widened to provide adequate tidal flow, which will keep the estuary from becoming hyper saline.

Boyd Blihovde, Manager at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge of which Bahia Grande is a part, says work on the permanent channel that would create a fully functioning estuary could begin as early as the end of this year. Even without the permanent channel, Bahia Grande is supporting remarkable aquatic life.

“We have shown that seagrass comes back, oyster beds come back, and not only that but the fish populations and even sea turtles are using Bahia Grande.”

Monitoring studies are underway at Bahia Grande using bag seines, gill netting and other means to determine baseline data on the estuary revealing populations of shrimp, black drum and many other marine species. This research will continue after construction of the permanent channel to ascertain just how successful the restoration will ultimately be with the hope of eventually opening Bahia Grande to the public for fishing and other recreation.

“I think it proves that sometimes it is very simple, the restoration process. In this case, you just really add water and the wildlife will come back.” Says Blihovde.

 

The South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce welcomed anglers, captains and their families to the 37th Annual Ladies Kingfish Tournament beginning on Friday, Aug. 10 for registration.

Early Saturday morning anglers hit the waterways returning to the docks before 7:00 p.m. to weigh in their catch. For the second year in a row there were concerns early in the week regarding high seas, but once again, “Chamber weather” prevailed and everyone had a great time.

The Awards Ceremony on Sunday brought anglers and their families together to recognize those who took top prizes. A total of 30 anglers received framed original artwork by Dinah Bowman specific to the species they won. Trophies done by Bowman were also awarded for Grand Champion Bay Division and Grand Champion Offshore Division.

This year’s bay champion was Vicki Lambert from Bellvine. Vicki brought in all three species for a total weight of 12.2 pounds. She was fishing with Vere Wells on the boat Poppn’ Rodd.

Robin Jones from Bayview, walked away with the Offshore Championship when she brought in all four species for a total weight of 57.7 pounds. Robin was fishing on the boat Miss Guided with Daniel Cole.

The LKT Legacy Award, created by Vicki Lambert in memory of her mother Ann Wells, who fished LKT for 35 years prior to her death in 2017, was awarded to Sandra Veale. This award was started in 2017 as the “Angler Annie Award,” and was presented to Maria Pinkerton.

Special recognition was also given to Ingried Steinbach who was a longtime participate of the Ladies Kingfish Tournament, and the recipient of numerous awards over the years. Ingrid passed away earlier this year, and her family donated several of her LKT awards to the SPI Chamber and LKT for their use, and where on display as a memorial to Ingrid, and her love of fishing and LKT.

Sponsors for year’s event were Title Sponsors LaCopa Inn & Suites/LaQuinta Inn & Suites/Hilton Garden Inn, Rio Grande LNG, Shallow Sport of Texas/The Sportsman, South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau and Valley Crossing Pipeline; Gold Sponsors, Rental World, and Sea Ranch II at SouthPoint; Bronze Sponsors Louie’s Backyard and Palms Resort & Café on the Beach, and Friend Sponsors A Clean Portoco, Anglers Marine Center, Blackbeards’, Blue Marlin Supermarket, CAS-CPA, LLC, Cameron County Insurance Center, Inc., Central Texas Concealed, Core Business Solutions, First National Bank-SPI, Padre Island Brewing Co., Pirate’s Landing Fishing Pier, Republic Services, Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets, Schlitterbahn Beach Resort, Sea Ranch Restaurant, and Tequila Sunset. This year’s Awards Lunch Sponsor was Furcron, Inc. REALTORS and Property Management.

Trophy Sponsors for this year’s event were American Diving, Captain Bryan Ray Fishing Adventures, Coral Reef Lounge, First Community Bank-SPI, Fudge Consulting, PLLC, Furcron, Inc. REALTORS® and Property Management, Gabriella’s Italian Grill & Pizzeria, Harbor Street Laser Wash, Inertia Tours, Isla Grand Beach Resort, Island Cinema, Jordan Luera, Kay Young Ezell – RE/MAX 1st Choice, Laguna BOB, Louie’s Backyard, Lynn and Gary Tate, Mike and Patty Johnson, Padre Elite Team – RE/MAX Elite, Padre Island Brewing Co, PI/SPI Guides Association, Red Mango South Padre Island, Renee’s of South Padre, Rio Grande Valley Abstract, Sea Ranch Restaurant, Shallow Sport Boats, Sharon Taylor, Ship Shape, South Padre Marie, Tequila Sunset, White Lumber and Yummies Bistro.

Trophies were awarded to first through fourth place on all fish. The winners list along with photos taken on Sunday of the winners will be available on the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce website (www.spichamber.com). Everyone is welcome to download and print photos at no cost. Alexa Ray was tournament photographer this year, and photos taken on Friday night and on the dock Saturday are also available on the SPI Chamber website.

Mark your calendar for the 38th Annual Ladies Kingfish Tournament scheduled for August 9-11, 2019 and start your own Island tradition.

Bay Division – Redfish

Weight Length Angler

1st Place 8.35 27 7/8 Vicki Lambert

2nd Place 7.25 27 1/8 Lauren Foster

3rd Place 6.65 26 3/4 Kaitlin Peteres

4th Place 6 25 7/8 Norma Anguiano

Bay Division – Trout

Weight Length Angler

1st Place 4.15 23 1/4 Sophia Bonas

2nd Place 3.55 23 3/8 Krista Gallegos

3rd Place 3.25 22 1/4 Karen Watt

4th Place 3 22 5/8 Ann Monique Hensely

Bay Divison – Flounder

Weight Length Angler

1st Place 3.9 21 Carrie Lee Buchan

2nd Place 3.2 19 1/2 Dorina Ramirez

3rd Place 2.95 19 Melissa Mikulik

4th Place 2.9 19 1/8 Kelsey Garcia

Offshore – Kingfish

Weight Length Angler

1st Place 33.85 47 3/4 Robin Jones

2nd Place 27.15 45 3/4 Sarah Bryan-Reyes

3rd Place 24.15 44 3/8 Lois Marchand

4th Place 24 42 1/2 Alexa Ray

Offshore – Bonita

Weight Length Angler

1st Place 8.95 25 1/4 Emily Weisfeld

2nd Place 7.95 24 1/2 Lois Marchand

3rd Place 7.2 24 1/4 Janet Behm

4th Place 6.95 22 3/4 Sandra Anderson

Offshore – Dolphin

Weight Length Angler

1st Place 11.25 33 3/8 Cheryl Olson

2nd Place 10.2 31 1/2 Robin Jones

3rd Place 9.4 30 3/4 Alexa Ray

4th Place 7.35 28 1/4 Cynthia Rodriquez

 

Ann Louise Wells fished her whole life. She first took up the hobby when she was just a baby in her home state of Michigan, participating in tournaments with her father. After moving to South Padre Island, Wells quickly fell in love with bay fishing in the Laguna Madre, and jumped at the chance to compete in the 1st Annual Ladies Kingfish Tournament — then called the “Yellow Rose Tournament”.

Vicki Lambert, Wells’ daughter expressed that her mom, “Always said that she ‘felt closer to God on the water more than any place else.’”

Ann Wells fished in every Ladies Kingfish Tournament held until 2016, when she was unable to participate due to a hospitalization. Though her daughter Vicki Lambert did register her that year, it was the first time in 35 years that Wells could not participate in the event. “She would look forward to LKT all year, and was so sad that she wouldn’t be able to fish that year”, Lambert admitted.

By Alexa Ray

 

After being awarded $25,000 in grant funding, you might see new seating in the local movie theater here sometime this fall.

Island Cinema owner Courtney Hayden is ecstatic she received the “Sand Dollars for Success” grant from South Padre Island’s Economic Development Corporation.

“We have known that we’ve needed new seats for a long time,” Hayden said.

“And it just hasn’t fit into our budget. So, having this financial help was just wonderful and I think a lot of people in the community here are very excited, too, because they like to come here, but they don’t like our current seats very much and we understand that.”

“The screens are small and the seats are old. But everything seems well maintained and it is actually a lot of fun to go to a movie here,” McAllen resident Jerry J. wrote in a review he posted on Yelp last year.

New seating in the cinema will probably cost about $40,000 to $50,000. Hayden said all of the grant money will go toward seating and then between her and the business will have to come up with the rest of the money to get it done. But that’s what they’re doing.

The Island Cinema building was constructed in 1992. Hayden purchased the movie theater from the previous owner in 1996.

It has four movie screens and about 426 movie theater seats. However, the building does not have the height to effectively put in stadium seating. So it will still have a sloped floor, but they are looking for comfortable seats with arms that rise up.

Stadium seating is a seating arrangement that is commonly associated with performing arts venues. Most or all of the seats are placed higher than the seats in front of them.

“We’re going to get the best possible, sturdy, extremely comfortable and attractive seats that we can,” Hayden said.

“So, we know and the world knows that we need new seats and we’re real excited that we’re going to have them,” Hayden said.

Hayden is “still shopping for new seats” and thinks Island Cinema is “going to end up with exactly 100 in each theater.”

Hayden began applying for “Sand Dollars for Success,” a grant program for startups and existing businesses on South Padre Island, back in January.

The grant program “provides much-needed capital funds to increase sales and create or retain jobs that will improve the economy on the island.”

Businesses that applied for the grant took three courses given by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Small Business Development Center. These courses helped the applicants write their business plans.

The Economic Development Board grades every business plan and the ones that score 80 or above qualify for the next and final round. Eight out of the 11 businesses that applied for the grant scored well enough to move on and give an oral presentation to the EDC board.

“Her business plan and sales pitch was that she needs new seats, because they’re in bad shape,” Island Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Darla Lapeyre said.

“Since this is the only movie theater in our whole area, we want to make sure that people aren’t leaving and going elsewhere to just see the movies because of the seating and that’s the kind of feedback she was getting.

“She said she’d get people calling and asking, ‘Do you have new seats yet,’” Lapeyre added.

Hayden emphasized her gratitude to the Economic Development Corporation board.

“I am very grateful to them for having instituted the program and deciding that I was the one who should receive the money this year,” Hayden said. “I’m just thrilled to be moving forward with our seating project.”

This is the second year that South Padre Island’s Economic Development Corporation has offered “Sand Dollars for Success” and is going to do it again next year.

“We already did our budget for next year and we put $25,000 in. So next January, businesses can apply again and if you didn’t get it you can apply again,” Lapeyre said.

“We did have some really good other applicants. Hopefully, some of those will come back and apply,” Lapeyre added.

By ALANA HERNANDEZ Staff Writer

 

Since the beginning of March, eight Sea Turtle Inc. interns have been working on various projects that have led to positive contributions in research, public education, nest conservation and rehabilitation, not only for local sea turtles, but for themselves as well.

Courtney King, 23, an intern from Plymouth, Michigan, said she “was scared of public speaking before this internship,” but doesn’t have that problem any more thanks to her experiences with Sea Turtle Inc.

“I came here and I had to give presentations to about 250 tourists almost every other day, so that was a really great experience for me because it took me out of my comfort zone,” she said. “Now I really don’t have a problem with public speaking.”

Sea Turtle Inc. has been offering internships for the past eight years. Interns spend 60 percent of their time giving educational presentations, promoting adoptions, memberships and helping in the gift shop.

Additionally, 30 percent of their time is spent conducting nest conservation activities such as looking for sea turtle nesting, maintenance and monitoring of relocated nests in a corral and helping during hatchling releases.

The remaining 10 percent is spent working with daily rehabilitation procedures and husbandry in the rehabilitation center.

However, those are not the only activities interns work on during their stay on the Island. Another part of the internship involves working on projects that can benefit the organization.

King has been working on a nesting project that discovered what happens to local nests that stay on the beach.

“It’s very dangerous for eggs to be left out on the beach,” King said.“So we marked them as if they were there and took pictures of them every day in the incubation period until the nest hatched in order to see what kind of things would have happened to the nest if it was left there.”

A different intern’s project involved gathering crabs and feeding them to one of Sea Turtle Inc.’s patients. He wanted to see if the turtle would be able to hunt in the wild and because of his project, discovered that the sea turtle could. The turtle was released a few days ago.

Another project revolved around the fireworks shows held during summer weekends on the Island. She went to the corral at night to see the vibrations and learn what it could do to a nest during fireworks shows on the beach during the months of June and July.

Sea Turtle Inc’s marketing and public relations manager Sanjuana Zavala said it’s very popular for South Padre Island to have firework shows.

“We do have one that’s on the beach that is fairly close to our nesting corral so the intern was recording vibrations to see if that would affect our nests,” she said.

All of these projects were science related, but not every project has to be.

“Anything that can benefit our organization and be aligned with the program through their project is what we tell them,” Zavala said about the approved projects.

Some interns create art projects with recycled materials from trash that’s left out on the beach and other interns create canvas work like oil paintings that are placed in live auctions during fundraisers that help raise money for Sea Turtle Inc.

The amount of creative projects is endless. Interns have even made educational scripts and puppet shows for the kids who visit Sea Turtle Inc.

By ALANA HERNANDEZ Staff Writer