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SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Could a mini-hospital be in route to the Island?

During an Economic Development Board (EDC) meeting held earlier this week, SPI EMS Medical Director Dr. Richard Joe Ybarra announced the results of a Hospital Feasibility Study conducted for the Island.

Ibarra said the project is going to need funding and planning, but the study determined the Island could sustain a micro-hospital, which is comprised of an emergency room with a few hospital beds.

“The feasibility study shows positive results and now we just need to execute the details,” Ibarra said. “And in the meantime, build something where we can provide our visitors and our citizens with healthcare.”

According to Ibarra, the smallest micro-hospital would cost about $10 million.

Ibarra said in prior years he “unsuccessfully tried” to bring healthcare to the Island through various independent projects.

However, he believes his latest project will be successful if the city becomes a partner.

“Unfortunately, those projects didn’t succeed,” Ibarra said. “And as I analyzed why they didn’t, it’s because we didn’t form a partnership with the city.”

During the meeting, EDC Board Directors expressed their interest in Ybarra’s project.

“As you can tell, certainly we’re behind this and I think it’s something the Island definitely needs,” said Mickey Furcron. “So, we certainly want to support that.”

Ibarra said he plans to partner with other entities such as the Harlingen Medical Center and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Harlingen Medical Center CEO Matt Wolthoff said he appreciates Ibarra’s passion and commitment to bringing healthcare to the Island.

“We are interested in partnering in that endeavor and whatever that looks like in the future, we’d like to play a role in that,” he said. “We feel right now urgent care is probably the best starting point for the Island and we can certainly look at growing it from there.”

Alana Hernandez

After months of campaigning, meet and greets, forums, and local political discourse, the South Padre Island mayor election, now a runoff, will come to a close with Election Day this Saturday, June 29. Some eager voters, however, have already casted their early ballots this week as the window to do so also concluded.

According to SPI City Secretary Susan Manning, a total of 557 voters cast their ballots during the early voting period. As of press time last week, only 274 voters had done so.

Manning also stated via email that an additional 87 ballots were mailed out, and 72 have been returned and casted thus far.

Election Day will be held on Saturday, June 29 with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at City Hall, 4601 Padre Blvd.

The two candidates who have been running for the position since May are former assistant city manager Darla Jones and Planning and Zoning Chairman, as well as business owner, Patrick McNulty.

For scope, SPI Mayor Dennis Stahl announced his departure back in February, deeming a special election necessary. On that ballot were the two aforementioned candidates as well as business owner Clayton Brashear.

That May election came and went with 950 total ballots casted. Jones received 417 votes; McNulty received 285, and Brashear 244. Brashear lost that special election, and when no candidate earned a 50 percent plus one of the votes, the runoff election between Jones and McNulty ensued.

Jones will be hosting an Election Day watch party at Padre Island Brewing Co. that evening and McNulty will be hosting his at F&B SPI.

By FREDDY JIMENEZ

This article originally appeared in the Friday June 21, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

In a move that local officials say will boost the economy and strengthen transportation in the region, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a redesignation agreement to merge the three Valley Metropolitan Planning Organizations.

Abbott signed the merger agreement Friday, June 14 at an event attended by various Rio Grande Valley leaders such as Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Representatives Bobby Guerra and Terry Canales.

“Thanks to the hard work of many leaders and stakeholders here today, we are ushering in a new era of economic development and collaboration for the Rio Grande Valley,” Abbott said at the signing ceremony. “This region plays such an important role in growing the Texas economy and strengthening our international trade partnerships. I look forward to the tremendous new opportunities this agreement will create for the people of the Rio Grande Valley.”

A metropolitan planning organization is a local decision-making body that is responsible for overseeing the metropolitan transportation planning process. Federal law requires an MPO for each urbanized area with a population of more than 50,000 people.

Prior to this agreement, the Rio Grande Valley was home to three separate MPOs — Brownsville, Harlingen-San Benito, and Hidalgo County. The RGV MPO agreement will merge all three MPOs into one, encouraging economic development and strengthening transportation systems throughout the region. The agreement will also improve the Rio Grande Valley’s ability to compete for greater funding opportunities for infrastructure projects.

With this agreement, the incoming Rio Grande Valley MPO will be able to compete with Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio for funds from the Texas Department of Transportation.

“We were fighting for the same cheese when it’s better to get a bigger piece of it,” Pharr Mayor and Hidalgo County MPO Chairman Ambrosio Hernandez previously said. “It was time for us to work as a region to mobilize our resources together more effectively, maybe get bigger amount of funds for our region to cover all aspects of our needs. And what better way to do it…then doing it together rather than doing it in pieces.”

The merger had been in the works for years, Hernandez said.

According to Hernandez, 80 percent of MPO funds are distributed to the MPO’s for the areas of Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio due to their population size. Once the merger is finalized, the RGV MPO will be able to receive a portion of that 80 percent.

The goal is to have the new MPO set up by before the start of the upcoming fiscal year, Hernandez said. He added that the new MPO board will have 13 members representing the cities of Pharr, Mission, Edinburg, McAllen, Brownsville, Harlingen and San Benito, along with Hidalgo and Cameron County, for a combined 31 votes.

With this merger, Hernandez said potential future projects that could happen due to the increase in funding include the construction of a second causeway to South Padre Island and a highway loop that connects all of Hidalgo County.

“Our South Texas region will now have access to millions in funding for transportation infrastructure projects, which will lead to better economic opportunities for our entire region to enjoy,” Hernandez said in a statement.

Written by Jose de Leon III

The Commemorative Air Force Rio Grande Valley Wing AIRSHOW! takes off this weekend, and this year it’s at a new location.

The CAF AIRSHOW! will happen at the Port Isabel-Cameron County Airport, at 27517 Buena Vista Blvd. in Los Fresnos.

David Hughston, commander for the CAF RGV, said an advantage of having the air show at its new location “is that we don’t have to deal with the tower,” as they did at the old location at the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport.

Hughston, a veteran pilot, will fly his Stearman, a 1947 PT (Personal Trainer) biplane used for military training, during the show.

Among the reenactments that the pilots will be performing at the AIRSHOW! is the pyrotechnic display featured in the “Tora! Tora! Tora!” segment where four replicas of Japanese fighters and torpedo planes have a starring role.

Two Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt “Warthogs,” based in Florida, are modern military aircraft and will take to the skies for simulated bombing runs.

“During AIRSHOW! there will be as many as 10 planes in the sky at once,” Hughston said. “These new ‘birds’ are always a hit with the crowd.”

The hangar also stores flyable WWII aircraft, such as the rare German Focke-Wulf 44 Stieglitz biplane and the American Stearman (Boeing) PT-13 biplane.

Advance tickets are available online at www.rgvcaf.org for $12. There is no admission cost for children under 12.

On the days of the event, tickets are $15 per person and each ticket is good for one adult, one day only.

Parking is available for $5 and begins at 9 a.m. with plenty of time to visit the on-site trade show and admire the vintage airplanes.

Flying begins at noon and will last approximately three hours.

Advance general admission “Flightline” tickets, an upgrade that includes a tent with chairs, refreshments available for purchase, and a porta-potty area under the tent, are available for $22. These tickets are available for purchase until noon on the day of the show. Each ticket is good for one adult, one day only. Children under 12 are free with adult; $5 per child entry to the Flightline Club.

VIP tickets are $150. Entry into Airshow 2019 VIP tent includes: private, covered, front-row seating, a catered lunch and snacks, as well as bottled water, sodas, juice and beer. Private parking is located directly behind VIP tent. Group rates are available.

Hughston said a special B-25 bomber flight is available for $300 per person for a group of five.

The CAF RGV Wing’s dream is to build a 5,000 to 6,000-square-foot museum adjacent to the airport, as well as additional buildings for offices and meeting rooms.

Advance tickets are also available at the following locations:

>> SPI Chamber of Commerce (inside the SPI Convention Centre);

>> Water’s Edge Gallery on SPI;

>> Hughston Insurance Agency, Brownsville;

>> Brownsville Convention & Visitor’s Bureau;

>> Mail-Pak-Your-Box Store, McAllen;

For more information, call (956) 454-4439.

 

sgroves@brownsvilleherald.com

Local artists with the desire to own and operate their own art business may soon be able to.

The South Padre Island Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is seeking applicants for its new Art Business Incubator (ABI) program.

Artists accepted into the program will receive several benefits, including free studio space, an initial supplies stipend of $1,000, a monthly stipend of $200 and gallery display space to be located in a Padre Boulevard storefront.

The application is open to all 2-D and 3-D artists, including painting, sculpture, photography, film jewelry making, fabric art, graphic design and technology-based art.

Eligible applicants must possess experience in creating and marketing their art or educational experience such as a master’s degree or Master of Fine Arts.

SELECTION PROCESS

Selected semi-finalists will be notified and scheduled for an interview with a panel of judges within a week of being notified.

Finalists for the ABI Training program will begin a Kauffman Fast Trac Entrepreneurial Training.

Following the training, finalists will have two months to create a business plan that will be evaluated by Kauffman business trainers.

Selected applicants will begin a 12-month residency in the ABI program.

THE PURPOSE

According to ABI Program Director Alexa Ray, the program serves as a tourism product that is not seasonal or weather dependent, which could help attract people with the ability and resources to travel year-round.

“The SPI economy will benefit from the boost that art and culture tourism provides as a result of the program and its emerging art business entrepreneurs,” Ray said. “And an added bonus of having a thriving artsrelated business community in the city is it enhances the quality of life for residents through shared creative experiences.”

To apply to the Art Business Incubator program, visit https:// tinyurl.com/y2nf2u4t.

BY ALANA HERNANDEZ, Staff writer

South Padre Island is taking steps to make sure everyone has access to the waves this summer with unique chairs for people with special needs.

They are amphibious wheelchairs that not only gives those with special needs access to the beach, but also a chance to get in the water

“It does float in a little bit of water, you know you don’t want to go to deep with it,” said Captain Jim Pigg of South Padre Island Fire Dept. Beach Patrol. “But you just get in the chair, push it out to the beach and have a good time.”

Starting with six, the Mobichairs made their first debut on the island several years ago.

Since then, they’ve been able to add more.

“City council approved it and got a partnership with GLO and found the money in the funding to go forward with it and now we have about eight chairs that we’re able to utilize,” Pigg said.

While Mobichairs cost about $1,600 a piece, they are of no charge to anyone who needs them.

Pigg said they’re used almost daily and although they have capabilities of handling more Mobichairs, it’s finding room to store them that becomes an issue.

“We come into the problem of the space and how much space to keep them,” Pigg said. “They’re a very large chair so space becomes an issue.”

The availability of the Mobichairs are typically on a first come, first serve basis, but here are times where they are reserved based on special circumstances.

In addition, you can use the Mobichairs for as long as you need them.

If you’re looking to use a Mobichair, stop by the third floor of the South Padre Island Fire Dept.

You will need to provide your driver’s license, where you are staying, your license plate number and phone number.

For more information, call 956-761-3040.

by Jolanie Martinez, CBS 4 News

South Padre Island’s tourism team is joining with regional airports in a multiyear partnership to market the Island to take advantage of increasing numbers of non-stop flights to the Valley from big American cities.

The South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau announced Wednesday shared marketing buys featuring the CVB and Valley International Airport and Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport.

“Today, more and more folks are looking at vacation trips online. The legacy carriers still have their online vacation booking engine, others, like Frontier Airlines, partner with larger distributor sites like Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, etc., to ‘bundle’ the airfare with a local hotel to offer a package at a particular destination,” said Jose Mulet, director of air service and business development at Valley International. “The SPI team is just taking advantage of the millions out there that are browsing for a place to vacation at.”

The online advertising appears aimed to capitalizeon increasing numbers of direct flights to the Valley now available from Denver, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Dallas and Houston.

“SPI and VIA are joined at the hip,” said Marv Esterly, director of aviation at Valley International. “The success of one is a true benefit for the other. Our partnership is a winwin situation for all involved including the citizens of the entire RGV.

Rick Kelley

Early voting for the South Padre Island runoff mayoral election will begin on Monday, June 17 and will run through until Tuesday, 25 with the exception of weekends.

The two candidates running for the position are former Assistant City Manager Darla Jones, and Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Patrick McNulty.

City Hall, located on 4601 Padre Blvd., will serve as the polling place on said dates as well as
on Election Day, slated for Saturday, June 29.

The polls will be open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. However, for Thursday, June 20 and Tuesday, June 25, the polling hours will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

As previously reported, after Mayor Dennis Stahl announced he was stepping down from the position due to personal reasons, a special election was deemed necessary.

That May 4 special election came and went with initially three candidates on the ballot: the two aforementioned in addition to Clayton Brashear, owner of Clayton’s Beach Bar and Grill. Jones received 417 votes, McNulty received 285, and Brashear received 244. The latter was ultimately eliminated from the contest, and because no candidate received a 50 percent plus one of the vote, the runoff election was called for June with only Jones and McNulty on the ballot.

By FREDDY JIMENEZ

The Coastal Kids Marine Science Day Camp kicked off Thursday at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Coastal Studies Lab in South Padre Island.

The camp, is taught at the “Ridley floating classroom,” a 57-foot marine vessel fully equipped for research and learning. Children at the camp used plankton nets, trawls, water and sediment samplers and test are given to kids to gain an understanding in the research of marine biology, ecology and human impacts on the marine environment, according to its official website.

At the floating classroom, students were able to interact with sea life by using the onboard touch tanks while being instructed by educator naturalists Mario Molina and Program Manager Shelby Bessette.

“It is important for kids to understand the environment and be able to touch and feel everything out here,” Bessette said. “Teach them about the animals and the impact that every activity they do has.”

The camp has been going on for more than 10 years, and students are able to see sightings of bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles and brown pelicans in the Laguna Madre. Onboard, students touched planktons, fishes and shrimp, among others.

“You have to respect the lives of these little animals,” Molina said to the class of more than 10 students. “They deserve to live.”

Students at the camp also had a lunch and watched a video discussion on marine habitats and watersheds, fish printing, hermit crab races, bird watching and water quality testing.

The Coastal Kids Marine Science Day for children ages 7 to 13 takes place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Thursday and Friday in June and July. A similar camp for teens will be held on July 29 and 30 at the same times.

“Our goal is to enhance the understanding of this unique marine environment and inspire stewardship of our coastal natural resources in students of all ages,” the floating classroom’s website states.

For more information about the summer camp, log on to http://utrgv.edu/csl

By Nubia Reyna Staff Writer

There’s a good chance that the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will be dismantled in Brownsville.

If the former USS Enterprise (CVN-65) does come here, though, it won’t have any nuclear material on board. Robert Berry, vice president of International Shipbreaking/EMR Group at the Port of Brownsville, said the carrier, launched in 1960 and officially decommissioned in 2017, has already been completely defueled.

Still aboard, however, are the ship’s eight reactors plus “radiation-impacted material” — pipes and other components that were exposed to radioactivity and still emit trace amounts, he said. Berry thinks the company has a strong chance of landing the Navy contract to salvage the Enterprise. If that happens, a specially trained team will be in charge of dealing with the radiation-impacted parts, he said.

The Navy is holding a public meeting in Brownsville on June 20 toward preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement related to the disposal of the ship and its reactors. Meetings are also being held at three other sites this month: Newport News, Va., Bremerton, Wash., and Richland, Wash.

Berry outlined multiple potential scenarios: Brownsville won’t get the contract and the dismantling will take place at Newport News, where the ship was built, or else at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton. In that case, the Enterprise would be towed from its current berth in Virginia to Washington, entailing a trip around the tip of South America, with the reactor cores being packed up and shipped off to the Hanford Nuclear Site in Richland.

Or the Navy could send CVN-65 to Brownsville for partial dismantling, with the cores being packed up and sent off to Hanford, or complete dismantling could take place in Brownsville, in which the case the cores could be sent to a West Texas nuclear waste site.

Berry thinks Bremerton and Brownsville are realistically the most likely candidates, while noting that towing the carrier from Enterprise from Virginia to Washington State would be quite expensive, a fact highlighted by the General Accounting Office, which determined that the Puget Sound shipyard wouldn’t be able to get to it before 2034.

“Part of what they’re doing is looking at the most economic way to do it,” he said. “In Puget what they do is maintain naval vessels and keep them ready to go out there and stay on the high seas. They stay very busy, and they just have a hard time finding an opening.”

Dismantling the carrier will probably take four to six years, compared to two to three years for a conventional carrier, Berry said.

“Tying up that shipyard for four to six years and making the space to do it is tough,” he said. “That’s the GAO report. That’s not me saying that. We’re able to take two ships the size of that carrier, and have had two ships that size in here before.”

International Shipbreaking/EMR has already dismantled three conventional super carriers: the former USS Constellation, USS Independence and USS Ranger, and will eventually take delivery of the former USS Kitty Hawk, currently mothballed in Bremerton, for scrapping perhaps as early as next year. In the meantime, the Navy is mulling the Enterprise’s final destination.

Scrapping decommissioned warships is in keeping with the Chief of Naval Operations policy on inactive vessels, which requires “disposal by dismantling in order to reduce the Navy’s inactive ship inventory and eliminate costs associated with maintaining the ship in a safe stowage condition.”

Whatever happens, the Navy’s in charge of the current proceedings and will retain ownership of CVN-65 until the last piece is carted away, Berry said, adding that he’ll be in attendance at the June 20 public meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Fort Brownsville Memorial Center, 600 International Blvd.

“The Navy in particular and us too, we want the public’s involvement,” Berry said. “We want them to know what’s going on, and any questions they have, we want to answer them. It’s all about transparency for the Navy and for any contractor that ends up working with the Navy on this.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com