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A bath in exchange for a good cause. Pet owners who pamper their pups tomorrow with a spa day at South Bark Grooming will benefit shelter animals in Port Isabel.

South Bark Grooming is hosting a Splash-a-thon animal fundraiser tomorrow at its Laguna Vista location.

Bath prices include $15 for small dogs, $25 for medium dogs, $35 for large dogs and $45 for extra large dogs. All baths will include a nail trim and ear cleaning.

According to South Bark Grooming owner Vicki Moreno, 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the Laguna Madre Humane Society and the Isabel Y. Garcia Animal Shelter in Port Isabel.

“ I know the shelters around here need all of the extra help they can get,” Moreno said. “So, I hope we have a really great turnout and can donate a lot of money to the shelters.”

According to Isabel Y. Garcia Animal Shelter Assistant Director and South Bark Grooming employee Lexus Martinez, the shelter takes care of about 700 animals every year and is a no-termination date facility.

“ We don’t give the animals a time limit for how long they can stay here,” Martinez explained. “A big reason we’re able to do that is because of the work we do with the Laguna Madre Humane Society.”

The Laguna Madre Humane Society helps transport dozens of the shelter’s animals to rescue organizations in Denver on a monthly basis.

One of the big projects the Isabel Y. Garcia Animal Shelter is looking to do this year is to create more fundraisers to remodel the facility.

“ The building was built in 1994 so with age, there is always work to be done so we’re going to get into a lot more fundraising to make this place more comfortable for the animals,” Martinez explained.


Commissioners for the city of Port Isabel approved the first phase of a master beautification plan this week,

“We’re just trying to improve the visual appeal of the city,” said Jared Hockema, city manager for Port Isabel. “Being a tourism destination, it’s really important to have impact when people come to town.”

To many visitors, Port Isabel is known for its lighthouse and as the town leading to South Padre Island.

But for those working on the mainland, like at The Quik Stop Bait and Gift Shop, visitors in Port Isabel means business.

The project begins with the city’s welcome sign and landscaped medians. Plans also include several road and drainage improvements to the city.

Hockema says Port Isabel had financial troubles in recent years and has been working to rebuild its finances.

The city now sees this year as a good time to begin widespread city improvements.

With the new landscaped medians, businesses like The Quik Stop Bait and Gift Shop, are skeptical on how traffic will run without opened medians like now.

“If they are planning to do something like that, we’re hoping it actually helps more of the business to do that,” said Oscar Garza, a clerk at The Quik Stop.

Although the beautification project in Port Isabel is in its very early stages, city leaders say, its completion all depends on traffic and how busy it gets during peak seasons.


Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush says he will do what he can to make sure sand dredged from the Mansfield Cut can be used to help re-nourish South Padre Island’s beach.

In a project costing more than ten million dollars, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is slated to dredge Port Mansfield’s ship channel to a depth of 17 or 18 feet later this year. Some of the sand and silt may be used to help boost the National Seashore north of Port Mansfield, while some may be shipped to SPI.

“We are all about prioritizing where dredged material can be best utilized and beach re-nourishment is time and time again the number one issue we hear about from communities up and down the coast,” Bush told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.

Bush pointed out that prior to Hurricane Harvey, his office was seeking $30 million from the State of Texas for a project that would have “re-nourished” much of the Texas coast. Once Harvey hit the Texas coast in August, 2017, state leaders were not inclined to free up money in the state’s treasury for non-hurricane relief matters.

On a recent fruit run to Austin, RGV public policy advocate Ron Whitlock delivered grapefruit to Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

“Before Harvey, we asked for $30 million that would have essentially re-nourished the entirety of the Texas coast. We made the argument, not just in terms of tourism and the additional tax revenue generation, but also storm mitigation, storm surge,” Bus said.

“For every dollar you spend in that respect you get four dollars back in mitigating future damage. That is something we will continue to advocate for. It is a problem we have in Washington and Austin right now. We wait for the storm to occur and then we pass the hat around. It did not quite work but we will work at it again this session.”

Asked if he will ask for $30 million during the current legislative session, Bush said: “We have not decided how we will make our pitch. The Texas coast is the priority for this agency. Stay tuned, I will be testifying Jan. 30 in front of the Senate Finance Committee.”

Bush added that there are a variety of issues the GLO has to work on in Cameron County, not least an erosion management plan to help the city (SPI) expand northward.

“We know this is an existential issue for the city. We had our coastal team work with the county to secure funding. Allowing for that development, you can, in essence, stem the tide in terms of erosion, which is the number one issue up and down the coast,” Bush said.

Rio Grande Valley public policy advocate Ron Whitlock met with Bush at his office in Austin on the first day of the new legislative session. “The sand that will be dredged from the Mansfield Cut would be perfect for South Padre Island,” Whitlock. “I was pleased to engage with Commissioner Bush on this issue during my recent visit.”

Whitlock said this would not be the first time the General Land Office has helped South Padre Island.

“Louie’s Backyard has been an institution on South Padre Island for decades. Commissioner Bush granted the restaurant 100 more seating spaces to expand its deck. For some reason the application had sat there in the GLO’s archives floundering. Commissioner Bush came along and signed it. So, he is already a hero on SPI.”

Bush responded: “It was the right thing to do, it was good public policy.”

During his visit, Whitlock pointed how Port Mansfield had secured around $17 million to have the Mansfield Cut dredged. He said dredging to a depth of 18 feet would be the deepest the ship channel has been since it opened in 1962.

“Great things will happen in Willacy and Cameron counties once the dredging work is done. It will allow commercial barges to get to the Port Mansfield harbor and the Port of Harlingen will have an outlet to the Gulf of Mexico. These are exciting times for the Lower Rio Grande Valley,” Whitlock said.

Whitlock noted that Willacy County is the poorest county in state of Texas and thanked Commissioner Bush for providing $6.3 million to help the county with flooding and housing.

“We went to the federal government and asked for relief,” Bush responded.

Navigation District perspective

Ron Mills is executive director of Willacy County Navigation District. In an earlier interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Mills said dredging the Mansfield Cut would be a “game changer” for Willacy County.

“For too many years, Port Mansfield has been in a situation where it simply wanted to keep the water flowing, to keep the harbor from turning into a giant cess pool,” Mills said. “But now we are looking ahead, looking for other federal funds to rebuild our seawater infrastructure.”

Mills acknowledged that getting notification from the Corps of Engineers last July that the Port Mansfield ship channel would be dredged “took everybody by surprise.” He said Whitlock and his company, The Shepherd Group, deserved a lot of credit for visiting the offices of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela in Washington, D.C. “Miraculously, on the fifth day of July, we learned that upwards of $20 million would be spent on the dredging project.”

Ron Mills

Mills said that knowing the ship channel will be dredged allows him to go after trade agreements with Mexican officials. He said the Port of Victoria, a shallow-draft port in Victoria, Texas, was an inspiration in this regard.

“The Port of Victoria was in just as bad a shape as Port Mansfield. But, thanks to the Eagle Ford Shale, they now have 16 barges a day coming in with oil. Each barge is equivalent to 33 trucks of oil. The Port of Victoria has become the second busiest shallow port in the country. Well, Mexico has a shale play bigger, than the Eagle Ford Shale, the Burgos Basin, and we are the nearest port.”

Mills said there was another project where The Shepherd Group was of “great assistance.” It involved legislation to allow Port Mansfield homeowners to lease their land for 99 years, rather than the traditional 50 years.

“At Port Mansfield, people own their home but lease the land. In a way it is similar to McDonald’s, which owns its restaurants but leases the land. It could be that Port Mansfield is the only community in Texas where the government is effectively the landowner,” Mills explained.

“A few years ago we tried to get the Legislature to allow 99 year leases but we got no traction. So, our board of directors commissioned The Shepherd Group and they worked on legislation with Representative Guillen and Senator Lucio. Now, a 50 year lease can be extended to 99 years, which gives peace of mind to residents who want to pass on their home to their children.”

Mills noted that of nine bills related to sea ports, Governor Abbott vetoed eight. “He did not sign the bill but he allowed it to become law. It was good public policy because they government should not get in the way.”

Speaking about Willacy County Navigation District’s work with The Shepherd Group, Mills said: “I have to say The Shepherd Group has been invaluable to us. They are advocates, they interact with a lot of politicians, even in Mexico. They were the driving force that made sure people were listening to us regarding the lease issue. They have the ear of the people that matter. It is all about relationships, which they have had for decades, their advocacy has been tremendous for us.”

Mills added: “When I got here, it was Willacy County, huh, where is that. Now, they are paying attention to us.”


From native plants and how to grow them, to live raptor shows, to fishing the Laguna Madre, the 24th Annual Winter Outdoor Wildlife Expo is going to be the Island’s biggest yet.

This year’s event runs from 9:30 a.m to 3:45 p.m. for five days beginning Jan. 22 with more than 60 presentations planned.

“ This is probably the biggest one that we’ve done,” said Javi Gonzalez, naturalist educator at the Island birding and nature center. “This year Jonathan Wood (live raptor shows) is going to be here for an additional day. He usually only comes for two days but we have him for three days. We’ve got new speakers presenting new topics, and we’re offering two field trips that have sold out already.”

The expo, pronounced WOW-ee, kicks off on a Tuesday with the entire day devoted to native plants and how to grow them. Harlingen master gardeners Mike Heep will have a segment on native plants, and Christina Mild will discuss edible native plants.

Other presentations include composting, landscaping with native plants, attracting butterflies and nurturing palm trees.

The next day is devoted to fishing tactics and techniques in the Laguna Madre. Fishing guides participating include Capts. Gencho Buitureira, Wade Davis and Mark Kreider, with Mark Machado talking on fly fishing in the bay and a fly tying presentation by Jack Keller.

At noon, Bettina Tolin, lead chef at Marcello’s Italian Restaurant and Bar in Port Isabel, will give a cooking demonstration.

“ She’s going to be cooking some seafood and shrimp … and people can pay $5 extra to taste the food,” Gonzalez said.

On Thursday, Jonathan Wood spends the entire day with his Raptor Project show, with additional presentations by Kat Lillie of Sea Turtle Inc. and others on gulf and bay activities.

On Friday, birds of the Rio Grande Valley take center stage with presentations by Mary Jo Bogatto of Cactus Creek Ranch, Tony Henchan on urban green jays, reddish egrets and pelicans by Lianne Koczur and plovers with Stephanie Bilodeau.

“ I’m a bird guy so I’m excited about this teacher who is going to be talking about hummingbirds,” Gonzalez said. “His name is Kelly Bryan. He’s a hummingbird bander, so he studies hummingbirds and he bands them. He lives up in the Fort Davis Mountains of West Texas and is going to be presenting about the hummingbirds of Texas.

“ He’s one of the leading experts on that topic, and that’ll be a special treat,” Gonzalez said.

Along with Bryan on the Saturday menu are a skins and skulls exhibit with Elisa Velador, bird banding with Mark Conway and mammal strandings with Shelby Bessette.

“ We’re offering three daily bird walks each day,” Gonzales said. “One is in the morning before the program starts from 8:15 to 9:15. That’s a quick hour to warm things up before the programs start. And then there are going to be another two in the afternoon, one at 1 p.m. and another at 3 p.m. when things are pretty much over for the day.

“ They’re going to be led by our volunteer Winter Texan guides each day,” Gonzalez said.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer

Coastal park visitors who are eager to claim summer spots at Isla Blanca, Andy Bowie and Adolph Thomae Jr. parks will get their chance starting Tuesday.

That’s when the Cameron County Parks and Recreation Department will begin accepting reservations online, in person and over the phone for dates in April through September. Visitors who use the online system can start making reservations at midnight, and park offices will take reservations during regular business hours.

This will be the first time visitors can claim their summer RV and camping sites through the park website. Hundreds of people in January 2018 camped overnight outside the park department’s South Padre Island office to make their summer reservations.

“We hope that our guests will use the online reservation system because it’s going to be a lot more convenient for them to make reservations,” Parks Director Joe Vega said.

He encouraged those who plan to pay for their spots online to familiarize themselves before summer reservations open Tuesday. Winter reservations will open April 20, according to a parks department news release.

Vega said some Isla Blanca Park construction will be wrapping up when guests arrive in early summer – weather permitting. The reconstruction of Sandpiper Pavilion will be completed late March or early April, he said, and the new DJ Lerma Pavilion will be finished in late April or early May.

The parks department also is making upgrades to the Isla Blanca RV restrooms and showers, Vega added.

“During our peak summer months in June and July, we should not have any construction at that time,” he said.

Office hours for coastal parks are:

>> 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Isla Blanca Park, (956) 761-5493, (956) 761-5494 or (956) 761-3475

>> 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Andy Bowie Park, (956) 761-3704

>> 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Adolph Thomae Jr. County Park, (956) 748-2044

The online reservation system can be accessed via www.cameroncountyparks.com

By Nadia Tamez-Robledo Staff writer


It’s not the first time the world has heard of Boca Chica Beach, Texas.

The sleepy seaside spot 24 miles east of Brownsville came to the attention of space geeks the world round in 2011 when Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies announced it was a contender, along with Florida and Puerto Rico, for the world’s first commercial rocket launch site.

The spotlight grew in intensity when Texas beat out the competition and especially on Sept. 22, 2014, when Elon Musk, SpaceX’s visionary CEO and chief designer, showed up for a ceremonial groundbreaking at the site alongside then governor Rick Perry.

Suddenly, Boca Chica has become the most interesting place in the world for space watchers as a gleaming, silver rocket towers above the scrub after being assembled on an accelerated timeline in full view of the public right off State Highway 4.

The stainless-steel-clad vehicle, with a decidedly retro look, is an experimental prototype for SpaceX’s “Starship” (formerly Big Falcon Spaceship), which the company plans to fly around the moon and eventually to Mars with humans aboard.

Until about six weeks ago, the Boca Chica site contained a temporary hangar, fuel tanks, tracking antennas and a solar array — but no rockets in evidence. On Dec. 23, Musk began tweeting photos of the prototype pre-assembly, then on Jan. 5 tweeted that the company was shooting for the first “hopper” test flight in four weeks, though eight weeks was probably more like it “due to unforeseen issues.”

On Jan. 10, Musk tweeted photos of the finished prototype, dubbed “Starship Hopper,” and noted that it will be used for non-orbital vertical takeoff and landing tests similar to SpaceX’s Grasshopper VTOL program, which took place in 2012 and 2013 at the company’s McGregor test facility. Hopper tests entail launching the rocket to an altitude of hundreds of thousands of feet, then, ideally, landing it again intact.

Musk also tweeted that the first orbital version, which will be taller and with a thicker skin and smoother nose curve, should be completed “around June.”

The Starship Hopper to be tested at Boca Chica is powered by three liquid-oxygen/methane powered Raptor engines developed by SpaceX. The actual Starship will be pushed into orbit by 31 Raptor engines making up the Super Heavy booster (formerly Big Falcon Rocket). The Starship and Super Heavy together will be 387 feet tall, about the height of a 31-story building, and both stages will be reusable.

SpaceX plans to send unmanned Starships to Mars as soon as 2022 and manned ships to the Red Planet possibly by 2024. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has already booked passage aboard a Starship for a trip around the Moon in 2024.

Starship Hopper isn’t 387 feet tall, but it’s still huge, and makes for an astonishing sight pointed skyward a stone’s throw from the Gulf of Mexico, waiting for someone to light the match.

“It needed to be made real,” Musk tweeted on Jan. 11, while noting that future versions of the ship “must be more pointy.”

Gil Salinas, former executive vice president of the now-defunct Brownsville Economic Development Council, first met with Elon Musk and the SpaceX team in 2011, and was part of negotiations to bring the company to the Rio Grande Valley. At the time, it was still in “startup mode” and had launched only two or three rockets successfully, Salinas said.

“Nobody at the time saw what SpaceX would be today — one of the greatest innovators of our time,” he said.

Salinas said that during multiple meetings with Musk he observed how well SpaceX’s chief communicated his vision and led his team despite considerable challenges to the project at the time. The fact that it’s resulted in a spaceship prototype — a cool-looking one at that — at Boca Chica he described as “amazing and incredible.”

“This is a big win for Texas and the Rio Grande Valley,” Salinas said. “To know that Brownsville will be a part of making history in this era of ‘new space,’ that I had the opportunity to work on the project from its inception in my community and my Boca Chica Beach, is something I will hold close to my heart for a long, long time.”

By STEVE CLARK Staff Writer

Laguna Vista is setting its sights on not just new businesses, but a new type of business.

The Laguna Vista Town Council has authorized City Manager Rolando Vela to seek requests from developers to bring the right kind of retail into the town’s 13-acre portion of the South Texas Eco-Tourism Center.

In partnership with the county, the $8 million center along FM 100 consists of 23 acres, and the town is seeking to bring in what it calls “experiential businesses” on its portion of the project.

“ We envision on these 23 acres, the 10 acres where the center will be built and the 13 acres which we’re going to offer for proposals, is that whatever is built on those 13 acres needs to complement the center and the center needs to complement these businesses,” Vela said. “So when you drive by, we hope that you will stop and partake in this experience.

“ We see the eco-tourism center as a major catalyst to jump-start retail development on this highway 100 corridor,” he added.

Laguna Vista and its 3,000 inhabitants have very little retail operating within town limits now. Town leaders believe the eco-tourism center will kick-start a much broader development phase.


Experiential retail


Just what defines the “experiential retail” concept the town is pursuing for its 13 acres on the eco-tourism center site is a bit vague.

Proponents of the concept say it is often tech-driven and interactive, and is seen as a fight-back against e-commerce or online shopping.

“ You and I can go online and purchase from wherever but you don’t get an experience shopping on Amazon,” Vela said. “You simply place the order and they send it to you.

“ In an experiential retail business, you walk in and they may have some activities, so you’re going into this experience, and that’s the future of retail business,” he added.

Some have called it buying a memory.


‘ A certain style’


Vela said town leaders in Laguna Vista are emphatic in wanting the right kind of development in the community on the shores of the Laguna Madre.

To ensure development takes the right direction, Vela said he is preparing an ordinance which will mandate certain features in any potential site anywhere in the town, not just around the eco-tourism center.

“ I will be bringing to the council next month or the following month a scenic overlay district ordinance,” Vela said. “What that means is 300 feet from one side of the city limits to the other end, 300 feet from the right-of-way on each side, we’re going to require certain standards, certain landscaping, certain types of signage and certain types of lighting.

“ We’re not going to allow you to put this fluorescent signage that everybody else puts up,” he added. “So that when you drive into Laguna Vista, you’re driving into an experience, a certain style.”

Having a certain style may be a component, but drawing tourists off the highway is at the core of the effort.

“ We are literally trying to bring the future to the present,” Vela said. “To the point where you’re driving by toward the Island and you’re saying, wait a minute, let’s either stop now or let’s stop on the way back.

“ We want it to be such that if you stop even to say hi, you spend hours,” Vela added. “And when you spend hours, you spend money.”

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


It’s no secret that the Gulf Coast has a special allure for birders.

But just how many birds migrate every year across the Gulf Coast? With coastlines spanning from Brownsville and South Padre Island along multiple states of coastline to Key West, Florida, anyone wanting to discover the answer to that question would have a lot of territory to cover — and a lot of birds to count.

In fact, it turns out, they’d have billions of birds to count.

A recently published study that includes data from radar and bird watchers has revealed details about spring migrations along the Gulf Coast. The study drew upon the work of citizen scientists and weather radar stations and the conclusions were published this month in the journal Global Change Biology.“We looked at data from thousands of eBird observers and 11 weather radar stations along the Gulf Coast from 1995 to 2015,” says lead author Kyle Horton, an Edward W. Rose Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “We calculated that an average of 2.1 billion birds crosses the entire length the Gulf Coast each spring as they head north to their breeding grounds. Until now, we could only guess at the overall numbers from surveys done along small portions of the shoreline.”

Researchers wanted to know about more than how many birds were migrating along the coast. They also wanted to examine how these journeys may be affected by climate change. Findings on the timing, location, and intensity of these bird movements were published in the study’s report.Data from citizen scientists came from an app called eBird, which is the Cornell Lab’s worldwide online database for bird observation reports. Sightings from bird watchers helped researchers translate their radar data into estimates of bird numbers. Weather radar detects birds in the atmosphere in a standardized way over time and over a large geographical area.

The radar data reveal when birds migrate and what routes they take. The timing of peak spring migration was consistent over 20 years along the 1,680-mile coastline. But the researchers found that the 18-day period from April 19 to May 7 was the busiest — approximately one billion birds passed over the Gulf Coast in that time span. Not all locations were equally busy, with key hotspots showing significantly higher levels of activity.

And Texas birders could probably guess that the Rio Grande Valley is a reliable hotspot for activity.

“The highest activity, with 26,000 birds per kilometer of airspace each night, was found along the west Texas Gulf Coast,” says Horton. “That region had 5.4 times the number of migrants detected compared with the central and eastern Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida.”

The data show Corpus Christi and Brownsville as having the highest level of migration traffic along the western coast of Texas.

Scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the University of Oxford, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, the University of Delaware, and the University of Oklahoma conducted this research.

Funding for this project was provided by the Rose Postdoctoral Fellowship, Leon Levy Foundation, National Science Foundation, and Southern Company through their partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.


The City of South Padre Island is looking to attract cruise line ships in order to attract more visitors. Efforts continue to bring a cruise line industry to South Padre Island. A public briefing on the progress was held this morning.

It’s an initiative South Padre Island Mayor Dennis Stahl has been passionately advocating for, researching, and soon negotiating. The reason is that SPI has what is commonly referred to as the “Off Season”; a slow season between the end of summer and March.

Mayor Stahl says, “November and December which were terrible months for us, are peak cruising months. But I would like to reduce seasonality.”

Don’t expect to see a cruise ship on local beaches anytime soon. The city has not released an official timeline on when we can expect the first ship. In part, it has to do with location. The city’s recommendation: Isla Blanca Park. Not city property.

“We started this with the county. There is city property available, but it would require significantly more dredging.” Says Mayor Stahl.

The four companies are looking to settle in SPI are Carnival, Caribbean, Disney, and Norwegian. When asked the mayor says the cruise line industry is interested in what the area has to offer. Community members and business owners show support of the initiative, even if they may not directly benefit from cruises.

Courtney Hayden – Island Cinema, “I’m not going to get these cruise passengers to get off a ship and come to a movie. But it would be so nice for the whole community to see some traffic, people moving around.”

Gayle Hood – RE/MAX Elite, “They may not spend a huge amount of money or stay in the hotels when they’re first here. They will come back.”

The mayor says it’s up to county leaders now. The Cameron County Judge has expressed support for the initiative. The mayor says that some of the top attractions pointed out by cruise line representatives include: Sea Turtle, Inc., SPI Birding Center, the Port Isabel Lighthouse, and Gladys Porter Zoo

Alfredo Cuadros


Late last Friday, anyone looking up may have noticed airline passenger jets, one right after the other, stacking up over the city to make their final approaches to land at Valley International Airport.

By around 4 p.m., airport passengers, flight crews and airport workers witnessed all five of VIA’s jetways in simultaneous use as passengers either boarded or departed those planes.

The packed jetways used to transition passengers from terminal to plane or vice versa seem to be an indicator that Valley International’s 12.5 percent increase in passenger enplanements in 2018 is set to rise again this year.

The Harlingen airport offers passenger service on Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Sun Country Airlines and Frontier Airlines, which began offering direct flights to Denver and Chicago in November. In March, American Airlines will be added to the passenger carrier mix.

“ Once American starts up, that number will significantly increase,” Bryan Wren, assistant director of aviation at Valley International, said yesterday.

Wren said all five gates were in use Friday due to scheduled flights, two on Southwest, and the others on Delta, Sun Country and United, and were not merely stacking up due to weather-related delays. In fact, a casino charter also was near the gates at the time.

“ It’s a great thing not only for us but the entire Valley,” Wren added. “With six air carriers, we envision that this is eventually going to lower the cost of airfare for people in the Valley because now there are going to be six airlines all competing at one airport.”

McAllen International airport has four passenger air carriers — Aeromar, American, United and Allegiant Air. Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport offers flights with carriers American and United.

Wren said his airport is “well within” its capacity to handle even more passenger traffic, but the airport is planning for the long-term once American’s flights begin.

“ We are in the planning stages right now of adding a sixth jetway, which would be Gate 1,” he said. “We’re going to start the design and planning immediately, and we’re going to actually open bids on that.

“ We’re going to add Jetway 1 and then remove and replace Jetways 2 and 4 depending on how the numbers come in,” Wren added. “Regardless, we’re definitely going to add Jetway 1 because we need that sixth bridge. That gives us a lot more options and increases our capacity at the terminal.”

In addition to more passenger traffic, Valley International is improving its profile nationally as an air cargo hub.

The airport now ranks around 76 th for air cargo in the country. Wren has said by the end of the current fiscal year, Valley International will rank in the high 50s, or on a par with airports like McCarran International in St. Louis.

This year FedEx announced it moved some flights from Laredo to Harlingen and between FedEx and DHL there are currently five flights per day in and out of VIA hauling cargo across the nation.

The airport also has embarked on a plan to lengthen its longest runway, 17R/35L, which already is the longest in the Rio Grande Valley. The runway will be lengthened from 8,301 feet to 9,400 feet to accommodate larger, wide-body jets.

In May, 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. The project will replace those to a depth of three feet and should be completed in January 2020.

Also in May, the airport opened a state-of-the-art, $3.8 million aircraft fire and rescue facility.

The airport also added new air chillers and fan coil units, a new HVAC system and new LED lighting, which have combined to cut utility costs by 30 percent.

The airport is currently replacing its 1980s-era ceramic tile with blue and gray epoxy terrazzo at a cost of $2.1 million.

VIA also plans to replace the flat roof on the terminal building and then work on replacing the dome over the terminal lobby.

Last year the airport added about 500 feet of usable runway area to Runway 17R/35L with construction work that improved the turning angle for pilots at the south end.

Most of the funding for the projects has been provided by the FAA, Airport Improvement Program grants or funds from the facility fee the airport charges each passenger.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer