County raises user fee, approves Access 5 improvements


Port Isabel-South Padre Press

The Cameron County Commissioners Court approved a $5 increase to the beach user fee for County beach accesses this week. The County plans to use the increased fees to help fund facility improvements, including a massive overhaul of E.K. Atwood Park located at County Beach Access #5.

The fee increase — which will also affect 30-day, annual and bus pass fees — won’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2016, according to a statement released by County Administrator David Garcia.

The price hike comes as part of the Commission’s approval of the Coastal Parks Master Plan, which will ultimately account for some $20 million in improvements and upgrades to Isla Blanca Park, Andy Bowie Park and E.K. Atwood Park. Some of the changes will take up to five years to be made, according to the statement.

Chief among the improvements is a complete reimagining of the facilities at Beach Access #5. The pavilion was closed this year after structural problems made it unsafe for use. Over the summer, the County obtained the services of Green, Rubiano & Associates, structural engineers, to examine the problem and propose solutions. They determined that it would be prohibitive to try to fix the current pavilion and instead began looking into creating an entirely new facility. They presented their proposal to the Commission last month.

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    • Old Hank on December 9, 2015 at 8:39 am
    • Reply

    A $5 INCREASE? That seems almost unethical. Many of the people who use those beach accesses are poor. This is going to shift beach-goers to the free beach accesses within the city, which are already badly overcrowded, and restart the whole parking problem issue. The city will have to install parking meters everywhere within the city, and nobody will be happy. Then the poor people will sue the city for an obvious violation of the open beaches act.

    So how much are the beach parks currently costing the county, compared to the revenue they receive? And don’t forget to include revenue from leased land, like the Hilton sits upon. I can understand the need for some maintenance and maybe even some upgrades to the beach parks, but why can’t they issue bonds for this and get the work done immediately, instead of waiting for up to five years to complete the work? If beach goers immediately get hit for another $5, then they should start to see some immediate improvements.

    If this mess continues, it may be best for the city to start maintaining those county parks, and allow free access to the parks for everybody. (With the exception of the garbage bag/refund policy at the gate, which remains a good idea.) Free access to the county parks would help offload the beaches within the city limits, which would be a good thing for property owners within the city. Maintaining those parks at city expense would raise taxes a bit, but the benefits of less beach congestion in the city might be worth it.

    On the other hand there is no easy solution here. On busy summer days the bridge is a serious bottleneck to getting on & off the island. That’s a major safety issue for emergency vehicles, and a major headache for drivers. Plus, Isla Blanca simply can’t handle any more visitors on busy days, and they shut the gates when the place is full. From that perspective, a $5 increase in entry fee could help discourage visitors and reduce traffic on the causeway. It might be easier just to put a toll booth at the foot of the causeway, and charge everybody $5 to get onto the island, with an option to buy a cheap annual pass. Use the revenue to upgrade the public parks, and property owners would enjoy the benefits of reduced traffic on the island.

    No solution here is perfect, but you can’t raise the price of admission to the public parks by $5, with no immediate increase in services, and not expect to have a riot on your hands. Don’t forget that a lot of those people who visit the public parks are already VERY drunk before they even get to the island.

    I am VERY curious to know how much TOTAL revenue the county gets from the island, and how much they actually spend on maintenance. The county parks are public property, and shouldn’t be used to gouge visitors.

    • Charlie on December 11, 2015 at 7:56 am
    • Reply

    This fee increase is a great burden on retired senior citizens wanting to visit the seashore. They should at least offer a discount to seniors and the disabled. The real reason may be to restrict usage and this should work!

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