By GAIGE DAVILA
The Port Isabel-South Padre Press had some transitional periods in 2019. Longtime editor Dina Arevalo left the PRESS at the beginning of the year, to work with the Mid-Valley Town Crier, where she is Editor. Freddy Jimenez, former editor of San Benito News, took the helm, where he and the PRESS’ staff covered local politics and wrote notable feature stories showing the Laguna Madre area in flux. He left to continue his coverage of San Benito, Harlingen and Brownsville, with the San Benito News. I joined the PRESS in late July, after a six-month stint in San Antonio, Texas, as an urban development and housing journalist, starting my viewing of my hometown through a journalist’s eye.
There were many stories us editors and the PRESS’ writers covered in 2019 that were notable in their impact, whether in metrics—such as the PRESS’ website traffic after a certain article was published, or how many issues people picked up from the PRESS’ newsstands—or anecdotally, when locals would comment on coverage via email or approaching us staff around town. Both instances guide this review, focusing less on an individual article and more on the trend the story follows. And as with any new year, an air of change is present, and 2019 showed that the PRESS’ leadership was not the only facet of the Laguna Madre area transitioning.
After the Yacht Club sank
In December 2018, the Yacht Club, an iconic Port Isabel hotel built in 1926, was demolished, after years worth of city-and-consultant-led effort to try to revive the then-decrepit building to operation. In the months that followed, in 2019, owners of the Yacht Club, father and son Ernesto and Armando Martinez, listed the property for sale, initially for $899,000, though the eight-lot property was appraised by Cameron County at $251,516. The property is now selling for $850,000, being zoned for a multi-family housing development.
Dennis Stahl resigned from South Padre Island’s mayoral seat a year into the job, in February, citing health concerns. Later in February, former Island Mayor Glen McGehee died. The Island held their mayoral race in May, with Patrick McNulty the victor.
Ronnie Huerta had his late-January trial delayed in connection with the death of former PRESS editor Elizabeth “Liz” Sweeten in March 2018. Huerta would later in the year, in September, be sentenced to 11 years in prison on an intoxication manslaughter charge, for colliding with Sweeten while riding intoxicated on his motorcycle between 60 and 70 miles an hour.
After Dr. Lisa Garcia retired from her post as superintendent of Point Isabel ISD, a lone finalist, Theresa Alarcon, was selected in January. Alarcon gave two interviews with the PRESS this year, along with Imelda Munivez, who replaced Dr. William Roach, longtime principal of Port Isabel High School.
South Padre Island received two unique, controversial attractions in 2019: an alligator sanctuary, at the now-named South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary; and a Ferris wheel, at Gravity Park on Laguna Blvd. And through the county’s hotel occupation tax, Cameron County built an amphitheater at Dolphin Cove and created a boardwalk at Isla Blanca Park.
After several preliminary tests and road closures, SpaceX launched its Starhopper spacecraft in August, which gave consistent, worldwide news coverage to Boca Chica Beach.
South Padre Island, Laguna Vista, and Port Isabel municipalities and residents, throughout the year, fought with the liquefied natural gas (LNG) companies seeking to build an export facility in the Port of Brownsville: Annova LNG, Rio Grande LNG, and Texas LNG. The companies have been met with opposition from activist groups and city governments alike, but have received support from county, state, and federal officials and offices throughout the year, in the form of tax abatements and build permits.
A man was murdered gruesomely in Port Isabel, in what the chief of police said was the city’s first murder in over 30 years. Described as an orchestrated killing, two people were arrested and arraigned in connection with the murder of Miguel Angel Orduna Aguilera, a resident of Laguna Heights. Both are awaiting trial at Carrizales-Rucker Detention Center in Olmito, Texas.
Local fishing tournaments went on as usual, bringing in many from outside of the Rio Grande Valley to the waters surrounding Port Isabel and South Padre Island. The Texas International Fishing Tournament, or “TIFT,” celebrated its 80th year. The Ladies Kingfish Tournament incorporated a new award structure, and the Wahoo Classic brought several memorable fish for its offshore-only place in the tournament lineup.
Homecoming and holiday parades were well attended in Port Isabel and South Padre Island, where PRESS writers covered the pastimes that are now enjoyed generationally. Walk For Women and Pride had large turnouts, filling Padre Blvd with pink and rainbow flags all of October 13. Toy and food donations around Port Isabel and South Padre Island, including the Merry Martini Mixer, once again gave several children, and their parents, opportunities for celebrating the holidays without more burden.
Though I can’t predict what will happen throughout 2020, there are some stories that will inevitably continue developing into this year and beyond.
Later in 2020, Texas will hold a senate election, and though its eleven months away, candidates for District 27, which consists mostly of Cameron County, are already on the campaign trail. Longtime incumbent State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., faces two challengers, Sara Stapleton-Barrera, a Harlingen-based attorney, and Ruben Cortez, a member of the Texas State Board of Education. Look for coverage from the PRESS and San Benito News throughout the year as the campaign continues.
SpaceX will soon test a larger rocket at its Boca Chica facility, which will inevitably cause already-concerned Boca Chica Village residents more strife, as the world cheers the rocket upward. LNG plant companies are continuing to seek permits into 2020, but local activists, residents, and municipal governments are expected to continue their opposition to their development.
More county and city parks are expected to finish in 2020, changing the recreational landscape of an area whose long depended on public beaches for land use leisure. Rio Grande Valley-based film is a trend the PRESS has been covering lately, and we intend to continue doing so in 2020.
Of course, we’ll continue our local coverage of the expected and unexpected, and look forward to your readership and support in 2020.