Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Miss Ya, Molly

Molly Ivins died today due to breast cancer. She was one hell of a lady in addition to be a great journalist, and was possibly one of the very few who could talk with Ann Richards and call her "Annie." You might not care for her brand of politics, but man could she write and be funny, all at the same time - something I aspire to. We'll miss ya, girl.

Those Amazing Roach Coaches

Don't call the copyright cops ... but I simply had to share this picture of a Roach Coach, this one from up by Austin way. You don't see many down here, where I guess they are bigger and are called a Taco Van or bigger yet, a Taco Trailer. Anyway, they deliver stuff to jobsites and for all the complaints and regulations, are quite good. The company that had the topless drivers were the best, of course.

Now see what happens when there is a small fender-bender and the cops show up? These here Roach Coaches do not like Johnny Law in the least, and this one decided to kersplode on two Officers of the Piece (pun intended). Pretty much got them with the ice and coke bin, eh? That Roach Coach does not look happy!

Probably it's grumpy about the weather, too.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Thermal Water Pollution

Sam writes as a guest columnist for Sphere, an environmental blog addressing his old stomping grounds. Some day we'll figure out how to actually make money doing this, but it was an honor to be included by a person who regularly gets in the New York Times. Check it out here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Round House

Wait a minute, that house isn't round, that's a square old Tiki beach house on Tarpon Street. For a round house you're going to have to looky here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"Down on the Boardwalk"

Imagine strolling along the South Padre bayside on a beautiful boardwalk, a margarita or wine in hand, checking out the sunset, the cool art, the food, and just hanging out. The music is [relatively] soft; the lights are low; life is good. Why can’t we have that?

Good question. The area between Palm Street and Fisherman’s Wharf would make an excellent boardwalk, being in the commercial district. In fact, there are a couple of folks who have thought of it before although nothing has happened. There are a ton of reasons why not but let’s be positive.

Look what they did down there in Kemah, Texas, which used to be a sleepy old fishing town. What they did was a little extreme but that boardwalk brings in millions of dollars in revenue because somebody had the foresight to completely revitalize the area, being partly funded by companies such as the restaurants, amusement parks, and hotels. I think the vision for SPI would be a little more laid back than Kemah, and one would hope a lot more fun (sorry, Kemah).

What would it take? That’s a pretty good question because many of the local commercial establishments have built out over the water. All that would have to go bye-bye, including the docks, piers, and bulkheads. One of the more expensive parts of the project would be building a brand new bulkhead part of the way down the bayside, of course to some kind of design - curves, angles, and straight as an arrow are the main options. The boardwalk it then attached to the bulkhead and in some places could be free-standing. The boardwalk at the Convention Center is a fairly good model of the construction method, with its piers and cement boards that won’t rot.

While many communities provide for lighting and some amenities, the waterside can be leased or allowed to be developed as finger piers as well, a source of maintenance revenue. These waterside accesses are usually gated and locked because having people on leased or private docks especially at night is a major liability. I can see renting watercraft and having a charter fisherman drop-off and pickup area where possible, though, and maybe even a nature area.

The big attraction would be Friday nights in the summer, of course, when the fireworks go off at 9:15. Should be nice.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Save The Turtles!

Photo: Nancy Marsden

The turles need your help. Please call (956) 761-4511 at Sea Turtle, Inc. if you can make a donation. Donations would be used for medecine and all the other things that are required; the last count was slightly over 100 and more boats are out today.

I helped take a load of 36 over to Coastal Labs last night. That big fellow at the bottom of the picture weighed over 100 pounds. Thanks to all who have helped the cause already.

And hey, what's that big bright thing up in the sky there? Oh, so that's what the sun looks like, I almost forgot!

Friday, January 19, 2007

51 Degrees Farenheit

Here are some monster waves from Sandy Feet's SPI-Cam. This was Monday or Tuesday when the water was still in the 60's. By today the water temperature plunged to 51 degrees. The rapid drop cause about 20 sea turtle strandings, as reported in this link.

UPDATE: Nancy reports 8 more turtles rescued today by Scarlett. Very few dead fish were seen on the bayside of the Island, mostly 6-8 inch mullets. The air is warming but is still below 50 degrees, meaning that bay waters could still drop.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Insurance Be Darned

The real sleeper issue for 2007 could be getting homeowner and boat insurance. Not only are insurance premiums rising, but in many cases people are being downright dropped. All the large insurers such as Allstate, Nationwide, Metlife, and State Farm are pulling out of the coastal market, mainly on lowering their risks from hurricanes. All this is despite making billions in profit even taking Katrina into account (Allstate was reported to make 3.71 billion in 9 months of 2006).

All this really doesn’t matter, unless of course you want to buy or sell a dwelling, since the bank must have proof of insurance.

I don’t know if this is an issue on South Padre yet. Anecdotal evidence is that it is not. Some homeowners have been dumped, reinstated, or actually received a discount. A particularly disturbing trend is to watch the deductibles rise from 1 to 2 percent or higher, in site of paying more. Such downward pressure on the market could be a factor in 2007, given the recent "softness" or whatever you want to call the curious condition we see today.

I’m still learning about the industry but one feature that bothers me is that if a claim is needed, it will pay out minus deductible but the original value of the dwelling when the policy was set, and not reflect the ever-rising prices of Island property. So if you bought at 100K but needed to rebuild at 250K, well, that’s too darned bad. You just got a one-way ticket over the Causeway.

The problem started in coastal Florida and is making its way up the East Coast and down the Gulf Coast. Boat sales are reported to be extremely slow in Florida, a major boat building region, since nobody can find insurance (Progressive will write some policies for boats less than 26 feet but has tripled its prices). It appears that the insurance industry could end up setting coastal policy more than any other thing, unless something shakes loose - and hopefully not a big hurricane.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Light Snow Reported on SPI

I saw some sleet while walking the dogs ... checked the weather service and sure enough they reported "light snow mist" at 10:00 a.m. and 37 degrees. /Sammie

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Another Excellent Bonfire

Last night's Capricorn Birthday Gathering on the beach was a glowing success, complete with a tent, cabana (wahoo!), truckload of wood, and some really special folks. About six or eight Islanders and SOB's had birthdays this past week. It is certainly a tradition to remember.

Amazing Walter showed up with his very cool cooking grill, some heavy iron for heating up the beans in a real cast iron pot and some wok veggies. I've got to get one of those! A sausage at the beach beats any baseball park weenie I've ever had - and by the way, I hope that dog who ate all the delicious jalapeno sausage had one hell of a fire-hot crap today. And no, we didn't eat much sand, an account of the wind block and all. It looked like a modern-day cowboy camp out there, it really did.

And what great timing, with rainy winter coming back ths week, to drop 40 degrees off the temperature. There was singing, dancing, ukuleles, stories, drumming, and all kinds of great fun. You could even hear coyotes in the distance, howling along with us.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Blowing Up the Bay

According to a reputable source, an oil and gas company is conducting a survey of the lower Laguna Madre looking for oil and gas. The air boats are setting most of the charges so they can literally blow up the bay, and then measure the shock waves for suspected hydrocarbon deposits way down deep. This activity should be on-going through the month of February.

If anyone has any further information please pass it along.

I did ask my source about whether there was already some oil and gas operations in the lower Laguna Madre. The fellow looked at me as if I was stark raving nuts. "Just yesterday I was out fishing and almost ran into three well heads." I had absolutely no idea. Can you imagine hitting submerged oil field trash at 47 miles per hour?

No, the sky isn't falling; they're blowing up the bay instead!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mad about Native Plants

I sure was perplexed by yesterday’s Bay Area Task Force meeting where we were going to approve a recommendation for about 30 streets to get concrete planters. Dang, the list wasn’t exactly right and nobody could agree on the kinds of plants, which was by default the Century Plant. Some argued passionately how utterly worthless the Century Plant was but I mainly just gave up, as most people don’t seem to have a clue about what is a “native plant” for South Padre Island. They don’t care, and were just angling for a good ole rumble at a public meeting, anyway.

Pictured above are two cuttings from Padre Island Mist Flower, or more simply Blue Mist (Eupatorium betonicifolium). From what I can tell it is the only plant named after Padre Island. It is a low shrub with tiny blue flowers that attract butterflies by the dozens. These starts were saved from the condos that are sprouting up all over the Island like noxious weeds. The magnificant Blue Mist on the left has been rooted for several months and looks great; the one on the right was just pulled from the ground a week ago and looks like heck. When these fellows flower this spring they will look quite beautiful.

The plant is not listed as being endangered but is considered to be fairly rare, similar to the Yellow Sophora which I also am saving from mass destruction. But heck man, those nasty Century Plants are everywhere, a dime a dozen, and to pay honest money for one is almost criminal – especially compared to beauties like the Padre Island Blue Mist.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Spotted Seatrout Hullaballoo

This was a nice catch by none other than Amazing Walter on Captain Randy’s boat (photo credit: Amazing Walter). It inspired me to write a little about the upcoming regulations for spotted seatrout in the lower Laguna Madre. Of course, these are my personal views and not any of others. First though I’d like to point out a fairly nice website that promotes a regional approach for the lower Laguna:

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is going out for comment on whether a regional plan would serve the lower Laguna best, since its catch rates have seemed to lag in recent years despite having fairly healthy populations. By comparison, the red drum fishery (redfish) is doing extremely well, which is a sign that speckled trout might be some kind of decline. I don’t think they are proposing any specific regulations at this time.

The current regulations are 10 per day between 15 and 25 inches, and one of these 10 fish can be over 25 inches. Anything over 25 inches is considered a “trophy” speck. Lowering the daily limit to something like 5 fish per day would have the effect of building the fish stocks - and having more trophy fish in the plus-25 category.

This is where it gets dicey. Some “elite” pro fishing guides actually want the tighter limits because they want to advertise their services for hunting trophy fish. While I’m not sure about the numbers, the population of local fishing guides seems to be increasing each year reported in our local paper here), which could become a serious issue in future years.

I am fairly sure the TPWD will consider the trophy spotted trout issue during the commenting process, which should end later this month.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Too Good to Pass Up

There's been some heated discussion and politics on all fronts lately. So, being myself, I decided to have some fun and lighten up. Here, I describe some new plants that the Department of Transportation could plant in its new median project. Sorry if you've already seen this!

1) Ornamental Paver Bladder-Wort (Canus sprayus maximus, tex-dotii). This specially engineered plant attracts dogs to pee there but when they get close the automatic sprinkler comes on.

2) Giant Venus Trap (touristi tastus goodus). This is a true tropical marvel, which is baited with special stuff from Whataburger. Only problem is, it hardly ever moves!

3) Cretin's Cellphonius (cerebellum lactus). This is a very pretty, low plant with white flowers ... and 20 foot long roots that can snatch a cellphone right out of a car window.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Susan's Postcards

These are old postcards from the Isla Blanca Park area, which were found during our efforts to save the park against commercialization and casinos (thanks, Susan Smajdek!). There were older hotels on the Island but this is the earliest postcard or picture I have found so far. Interestingly, at one time there really was a casino on the Island, although I am sure it was quite small. The Dunes, above, was quite aptly named.

Some things hardly ever change, do they?

Here's Boomerang Billy of surfer fame out by his hang-out on the beach. He rented stuff and lived quite a storied life, so they say. A cabana bar up the beach by the Surf Hotel now carries his name. Credit: Rio Bravo.

This is the old pavilion, which was replaced by two new centers in more recent decades. The concrete pad still exists and is being considered for a helicopter landing pad.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cool Old Postcards

Back in the early 1950's there wasn't a lot happening in the part of the Island that was further up the beach, so most of the action was down by the southern area, now called Isla Blanca Park. Thanks to a real nice lady named Susan for sharing a few pictures of old postcards. I have updated the SPI HIstory Channel and plan to include a bunch of these cool postcards over there.

If anybody knows anything about this picture please do comment. My scientific wild-assed guess (SWAG) is this would be nears Wells' Point and Dolphin Cove looking across the pass to Boca Chica, with a really cool old steamer in between. Perhaps the cars can clue us on how old this postcard is, which could be 1955 or so.

UPDATE: actually, the old postcards were published over here ... the new version of Blogger has been quite a challenge in the photograph department, as things won't upload about 80 percent of the time. We apologize for any incovenience - and I wish Google would, too!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

No Beach Left

Lori walks north of White Sand Street by the Tiki

How wide is the beach where you stay on the Island, and hundred yards wide or more? It sure is a pain the have to drag all that stuff out to the beach, isn't it?

Well consider the northern shores of our Town, where there ain't no beach at all. The photograph shows maybe 5-10 yards of beach and at that time the tide was still coming in; at full high tide Lori would be underwater and the waves right up to the man-made dunes.

This can also be viewed as the beginnings of a "continuous dune line" which is equally as disturbing. The trucked and piled sand by the north part of the island beaches is a drastic, temporary measure that will not last. All that can be done is to hope that a big storm will not wipe it all away and undercut the bulkheads and foundations, as it was doing a few months ago.

What was needed was hundred thousand of cubic yards of sand on the beach so as to extend the beach outward into the Gulf. If you notice, the last few beach renourishment projects have stopped by Inverness, since they couldn't pump more sand to the north. Thus the area between Inverness and the Shores could literally fall into the sea in a matter of a few years.

I never did understand the Island's beach renourishment program, since it put sand on beaches that did not need it. Beaches south of Oleander Street are actually gaining sand and don't need the dredge. The area where I took todays picture on the northside is losing about two feet of beach a year due to coastal erosion.

Folks this is a true disaster in the making and it is happening right here and right now. Imagine my wife in the same exact spot next year, but two feet lower - now you get the picture. Throw in a few bad storms and some Global Warming and this scenario is not looking good. It could cut the Island right in half right there.

* * *

As a postscript, I continued to notice that the sand at the end of White Sands Street was in fact black. Black sand is more common up by Corpus Christi but we have tons of it right at the end of this street. I will grab some samples to see if it is iron, which would be attracted to a magnet, or something else like carbon. /SW

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ila Update

Ila "the turtle lady" is better explained by her kin such as Mary Ann Tous (click for another link). I really was on an "old Island house hunt" but more should be said about our pioneer settlers.
I will be more than glad to host some here, but can't pay anybody to provide pictures or content, and copyrighted stuff is pretty much out of the question. Thanks for the website address, Mary Ann.