|EDINBURG, May 16 - South Padre Island is being pulled sand grain by sand grain into the Gulf of Mexico. It is estimated that we lose 5-10 feet of the coastline per year.
Dams along the river and jetties on the island itself interfere with the build up of sediment that created the island in first place. Entire sand dunes disappear, blown away by intense tropical storms. Sea level rise, due to climate change, is bringing the shore ever closer to the island’s beachside property.
As Valley residents play in the waves, fish, bird watch, and relax, they are blissfully unaware of the deterioration of their island paradise. Nevertheless, people still continue to build on the island. In order to shift the investing habits of many, there needs to be heightened awareness of the threats to the island.
South Padre is so developed that people are now pushing further and further north into the sand dunes to build new hotels, condos, and stores. Some of these new building plans have been halted by the city, because there is a high probability that those structures will be destroyed by erosion and flooding.
The newly opened Schlitterbahn Beach Resort built their beachside pool deck exceeding the Historic Building Line of the City. They voluntarily removed it when the South Padre Island Shoreline Taskforce brought to their attention that they had broken the law. The Historic Building Line is currently being surpassed in a few other locations. These areas had to apply for special permits by the state. The fact that the state granted these permits and allowed them to build in such a unsustainable area demonstrates how Texas’ lax regulations have encouraged irrational economic decisions.
FEMA uses taxpayers’ dollars to restore properties when they are damaged. This is money that could be saved and used somewhere else.
Taxpayers do not want another item added onto the lengthening list of things that they need to pay for, just so big shot investors can make their profit on the island. Money should not be taken from taxpayers to save investors from reckless decisions to build in high-risk areas.
A second causeway will be built in the near future. Construction has been scheduled to begin March 11, 2014. The second access to the island is going to grant more people the ability to get off the island in case of a hurricane. This may seem like a good thing, but the heightened sense of security is going to make people feel safer with their investments on the island, causing more investors to join this reckless trend.
Texas legislators team up with investors. Without the permit from the state, investors could not put their money in irresponsible places, expecting the government to help them out if worse comes to worse.
South Padre Island may be “an environment that welcomes entrepreneurs,” according to the South Padre Island Economic Development Corporation, but the money that is currently used to prop up developers on the island could be used to help maintain the island, or invested elsewhere. Smarter investments can help the residents of the island and the many tourists that drive out to enjoy the public beaches.
The dangerous companionship of investors and legislature threatens to bring our country down economically and environmentally. The only way around this is for investors to take responsibility for their actions and think about the long term effects. When they are given a permit by the government to construct further out, the price is ultimately put onto the taxpayers.
Madeline Tupper is pursuing an accounting degree at UTPA. She’s spent every summer and many weekends at her family home on South Padre, and she would like her future family to have the same wonderful natural experiences on the island.
The above guest column is part of a series on environmental issues the Rio Grande Guardian is running in association with UTPA.