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.

No comments: