Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Stinky Cheese Wars

Ah, who would have thought that such a perfectly foul smelling, wonderful French cheese would be the subject of a global trade war? Nobody really knows. As reporting the the Washington Post, the Bush Administration slapped a 300% import duty of Roquefort cheese in retaliation for the EU prohibiting importation of hormone-injected beef. Why Roquefort? Maybe I need to watch some more Monty Python movies.

If that's not existential enough, take the Stinky Cheese Wars being fought over the Town Lawyer on the SPI Forum. Like Roquefort cheese or the hilarious Flying Circus 'Cheese Shop' we simply have no idea why the idea came up, other than some old farts on the island must have gotten into some ... well some really stinky cheese or too many beans or something. We have no clue why people are mad at the poor lawyer, other than he has a helmet hairdo and drives a fancy Porsche 911 turbo. Hmm, hard to tell really.

I'm headed over to Zeste to see if they have any ugh ... stinky killer cheese balls!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Now that's a beeg plane!

This caught my eye, the biggest commercial jet plane in the world, the Airbus A-380. Quantas Air flies them mainly West Coast to and from Australia. It is so large that Los Angeles Airport (LAX) must stop all plane and ground transportation movements when one approaches or takes off. The local LAX officials like the business but treat the A380 as a royal pain because the wing span intrudes into all of the FAA safety zones.

Four Rolls Royce turbo-fans each output 70,000 foot-pounds of thrust and share a 80,000 fuel tank system. These engines are so large they required special sound dampening controls, or the passengers and crew would go deaf on a take-off. It creates such a turbulent wake effect that other planes must stay at least 10 miles away from it - smaller planes even further away.

Need to hit the restroom or make a fast destination when you've landed? With 500 to 800 passengers, the aircraft takes over 45 minutes to unload unless a third gate is added. Other US airports are looking to allow the A380 to land there (Kennedy does already), but the expense for taxiways and terminals is over 100 million dollars.

Ah, now that's living large, huh? I wonder if Sandy Feet rode one of those to Aussie Land or not.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sustainabllity Part 4

One more post on the topic and I'm taking a break until the some inspiration (or brain fart) happens about the topic. I would like to say that unlike the early days of the island, SPI was indeed a sustainable place, and there are doubts about the future. Yes the economy will be here, but what kind of economy and quality of life? This is in recognition that the only industry on SPI is tourism.

As stated very broadly on the Center for Sustainable Destinations, there are 5 aspects to geo-tourism and sustainable communities:
  1. Sustains tourism
  2. Protects the destination
  3. Conserves the resources
  4. Respects local cultures and traditions
  5. Promotes quality over quantity
Some of these concepts are being discussed around the island grapevine, without knowing they're talking about big concepts such as sustainability and geo-tourism. For example, Items #2 and #3 are about eco-tourism and the need for recycling and electrical conservation. Item #5 is misleading to many because they often think we need more rich visitors and residents on the island, which simply is not true. While the kinds of tourists that are more educated, stay longer, and spend more money do indeed have some disposable income, it could apply to any type of tourist. More on the topic will follow after a brief hiatus.

Happy Inauguration Day, 2009.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sustainability Part Three

That's a 1957 postcard picture of the old bridge, also known as the Queen Isabella Causeway. Since that time a new causeway was built in about 1973, the present one linking Port Isabel and SPI. A third proposal is underway for yet another causeway to be built somewhere north of the existing ones. And interestingly, it would be a tollway exactly like back in 1957.

The stated reasons for a second causeway is that additional capacity is needed in case of emergencies or in case a barge takes out one or the other, and plus the existing causeway is quite old (although there are no plans to remodel it). The unstated reason for a second bridge is because developers want a bridge to the North End of the island, so resort travelers would not have to drive through the towns of Port Isabel and SPI. The concept is to create additional capacity (discussed in the last blog entry). One wonders how sustainable the whole concept really is, especially given the estimate of about two hundred million dollars.

The North End is roughly defined as the land between the Shores and the end of Park Road 100. It is also the wild end of the island, relatively thin, and known for hurricane wash-overs and high erosion rates. To construct the huge resorts - a few residential lots have been sold but it is mostly resort - the fragile dune systems would have to be flattened. While there might be some restaurants eventually constructed in the area, it is expected that the business and entertainment zone would be in SPI. The grocery stores would probably remain where they are, the Blue Marlin downtown with the Wal-Mart and HEB over in Port Isabel. So there are a host of gambles, what-ifs, and relationships with the old SPI town core that haven't even been addressed yet. Those relationships turn out to be very important.

Many assume that self-contained mega-resorts or even casinos would be constructed on the North End. However, knowing human nature, they will want to fish, shop, dive, see dolphins, go to Sclitterbaun, see the fireworks, and so forth. So I don't trust the "self-contained" resort paradigm in the least, and building up on the North End will only make our town less sustainable. Further, one would expect very few long-term residents to move into that area, as it would be mostly casino-like resorts for shortime visitors and a few very rich folks who can afford second mansions. I know I sound negative here but there is no plan to accomdate such kind of growth to the North End. In truth it would be best developed for mixed uses that were low-rise dwellings - but development will happen and there's nothing we can do about it.

And on the same subject, I will not dwell on the "leaning tower of SPI" which was supposedly constructed to the best engineering available, yet it failed and will never be inhabited, a stark reminder of the conditions at the "wild end" of the island. So my take is that building up the North End is an incredible risk that will not improve upon sustainability one iota, and would probably ruin the wild beaches and the access to them as well.

In the next section I'll talk about "geo-tourism" which is very different from eco-tourism although they are related. The concept of geo-tourism is directly intertwined with sustainability.

Sustainability Part Two

Sustainability can be differentiated from the town vision statements and comprehensive plans. A sustainable community might be one that is over-developed. The concept there is called "carrying capacity." The easiest example is to compare when the island has exceeded its carrying capacity, such as during:
  • Texas Week, Spring Break
  • Memorial Day
  • Fourth of July
The threshold could be about 50,000 people on the island although numbers are difficult to pin down, other than we know when it happens because the bridge, main drag, and parking become so congested it takes hours to travel a few miles. There are 17,000 taxable residence units on SPI and perhaps about another 6,000 hotel rental units; in addition there are "day trippers" that leave each night, at times estimated at over 10,000 on peak days. There are very serious questions if the island could handle more people even with another causeway constructed to the north, as well as additional dwelling/rental units on the North End. What are all those people going to do?

This is an interesting case because during the off season, SPI can be considered a rural area having a density of less than 5,000 people per square mile, but can have a density of 25,000 per square mile on those peak weekends and holidays. One has to design the city for the peak activity, however. Once a threshold has been exceeded, the "island experience" becomes a negative due to crowding, congestion, and conflicts that create accidents and incidents. This "out of control" situation indicates that the study area is clearly not sustainable.

Yet at the same time, there is an acceptance that more and more houses and condos will be built on the island, which would increase loads even more. Some experts like to call this "managed growth" so as to minimize the negative impacts we already are seeing. Others call it bad names. I'll take on the proposed second causeway and North End development next.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

SPI: A Sustainable Town?

Most folks tend to think of "sustainable" in environmental terms, such as reducing energy and vehicle driving and promoting walkable neighborhoods. There are many examples with many of the advanced ones being in Western Europe. Others view it as an economic plan, such as for improved small town and rural areas, such as for expanded education and health clinics in Pennsylvania and Colorado. And for a coastal resort area such as South Padre Island, some would view it in the context of sustainable geo-tourism as opposed to mega-developments and high rises.

The concept of sustainability is simply one that says that rapid growth is not as important as being able to weather adverse conditions over the long term. A town that was built in a boom and became a ghost town was obviously not "sustainable." It's a fascinating topic and there is a ton of information about the subject, but nothing that is really comprehensive - which is why I like to write about it sometimes.

In classical Von Thunen terms, a city or town was a circle in the middle, surrounded by a fringe and then rural lands; the rural lands were cheaper so that is where the farming occurred. As cities grew with population increases, the cities expanded outward along with the fringe that pushed farm and ranchland further away from the city. This theory is still very much alive today with concepts such as a downtown, city limits, an ETJ, and surrounding areas that were under the control of counties, states, or the federal government. It meant a need for constant annexation as far as one could go - in the American West, seemingly forever.

The reason for annexation is because people who lived on the fringes enjoyed some of the benefits of the city, and therefore should eventually be taxed for that enjoyment. Plus in many cases, if the central city did not absorb those lands, other cities would claim the land and thus tax the residents and businesses, a net loss in revenue. Nowhere is the situation more evident than the cities of Port Isabel and Brownsville annexing all the land around South Padre Island.

If you look at sustainable areas such as those in Europe, population growth is fairly flat and the cities have grown all they can because of boundary issues. Our little SPI is remarkably similar, except for a few miles that can be developed and annexed to the north. However, our economic view even here on SPI requires growth for its future, a contradiction in terms. I'll write more about that in the next installment.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Global warming and another cold war

Now that's a big diesel engine. Sucks down about 1,600 gallons an hour! There's a little guy standing in the picture with a yellow suit. About 100,000 horsepower, to be used in a containership to brings us all kinds of crap that says "Made in China." Who would have thunk it possible?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Eric Proposes!

Looks like my son Eric and Cari are getting married this coming September. Here on the island! And she has a huge Italian family, like over 50. Lori got "the call" today and we're real excited. Does this mean I have to wear real clothes though, and leather shoes too? A tuxedo monkey suit? Ugh-oh, but I sure I have plenty of time to practice. But they're so happy, and that's what counts.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Tweet-Up No. 2

I thought the tweet-up at Joni's was great, and it wasn't all that freaky like I thought it ... well I have a fertile imagination. Hm, "tweets"? Had a great time, good crowd, had a beer, and made some friends.

Here's an example of long text, a little different from the 140 characters for Twitter. But it almost makes sense, and has some weird lingo from NOAA and the National Weather Service (evening forecast 8:50 pm CST Sat Jan. 3)

Marine...buoy 20 reported south winds at 15 to 20 knots and seas of 4 to 5 feet with a 7 second period early this evening. Observation on the Laguna Madre were light to moderate from the south. Winds will continue to mix down offshore tonight in the presence of a weak low level jet. Only when high pressure pushes into south Texas from the north Sunday morning to relax the gradient will winds weaken from moderate to light. Winds will remain light most of Sunday...slowly backing to east and then northeast as high pressure works its way into deep south Texas. Winds will become northeast and increase Monday morning once colder air arrives. Exercise caution to borderline Small Craft Advisory conditions are expected offshore Monday. Low overcast clouds with some light rain will be the rule Monday. Loaded new nawave4 grids which initialized the current lower sea heights well.