Steve Clark

Steve Clark is a staff writer with the Brownsville Herald. He can be reached at

Lower Valley barbecue joint wins prestigious national award

When the James Beard Foundation called Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Que owner Armando Vera a few weeks ago to tell him he’d won a major award and would be flown to Chicago to accept it, Vera hung up, convinced it was a scam. The woman called back. He hung up again. Named for the man the New York Times dubbed the “Dean of American Cookery” in 1954, the James Beard Foundation resorted to contacting Mayor Trey Mendez, which did the trick. “They sent the mayor an email,” Vera said. “He said this is something big. These guys, they call it the Oscars of the food world.” Read the full story at

LNG signs pipeline agreement

NextDecade Corporation and Enbridge Inc. have signed a “definitive agreement” for Enbridge to buy NextDecade’s Rio Bravo Pipeline Company. Enbridge would acquire 100% of the pipeline company, according to the agreement, though the deal depends on NextDecade reaching a “positive final investment decision” and moving forward with construction of its proposed Rio Grande LNG export terminal at the Port of Brownsville. The Rio Grande LNG (liquefied natural gas) facility is one of three proposed for the port and awaiting final investment decisions. The three companies, which also include Annova LNG and Texas LNG, received permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in November to proceed with the projects. Read the full story at

Port Isabel targets LNG construction, operation

The City of Port Isabel, the mayor of Port Isabel and a city commissioner have filed suit against the Brownsville Navigation District over its lease agreements with three liquefied natural gas companies that want to build LNG export terminals at the Port of Brownsville. Mayor Juan Jose “J.J.” Zamora and Commissioner Martin C. Cantu are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in the 445th state District Court on Jan. 27. The suit requests a preliminary injunction followed by a permanent injunction against construction and operation of LNG plants at the port, alleging that such activity “shall have a detrimental and negative impact upon the environment, including air, soil and water quality” for residents of Port Isabel and wildlife in and around Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Port Isabel City Manager Jared Hockema said the lawsuit is part of the city’s “natural progression” in its years-long opposition to LNG. “At a certain point — when FERC has granted its preliminary approval, there’s permits pending from TCEQ, and we see that the port may then now be in a position to enter into leases with these companies, it becomes ripe then to challenge those leases,” Hockema said Thursday. Read the full story at

SpaceX slates ‘career day’

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted Feb. 3 that design and production on the Starship V1.0 SN1 is “going max hardcore” at the company’s Boca Chica rocket yard 22 miles east of Brownsville. “It’s awesome! Feels a bit like a Mars simulator,” he tweeted. Read the full story at

KXIQ 105.1 FM community radio enters a new phase

The man is gone but his playlist lives on, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and you never know what you’re going to hear next. George Ramirez, longtime president of the Brownsville Society for the Performing Arts, who died Oct. 12, left Brownsville a culturally richer place than he found it. Among the many gifts from the founder of the Brownsville Latin Jazz Festival and driving force behind the Brownsville Performing Arts Academy, posthumously renamed the George A. Ramirez Performing Arts Academy, is KXIQ-LP 105.1 FM. The nonprofit station began broadcasting July 12, 2017, from the Lone Star National Bank on Boca Chica Boulevard. “LP” stands for “low power.” Ramirez submitted an application to the Federal Communications Commission to create the station after the Local Community Radio Act was signed into law by Barack Obama in 2011, freeing up the airwaves to small-time operators by repealing restrictions on the lower FM spectrum Congress had enacted 10 years earlier under pressure from commercial broadcasters. Read the full story at

Border expert endorses Brownsville riverfront redevelopment

Alan Bersin, Bill Clinton’s “border czar” and the person Barack Obama chose to grapple with drug-related violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, stood on the levee south of the border fence in downtown Brownsville, surveying the banks of the Rio Grande below and, just to the east, Gateway International Bridge. The former federal prosecutor was joined by Ramiro Aleman, director of business recruitment for the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation; Cameron County Precinct 2 Commissioner Joey Lopez; attorney and GBIC commissioner Dennis Sanchez; Mark Yates, director of the Cameron County Department of Economic Development and Community Affairs; and Sam Manatt, owner of the levee on which the group stood on the morning of Jan. 17. Bersin is a global fellow with the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington D.C., the inaugural North American fellow for the Wilson Center’s Canada and Mexico institutes, and chairman of BorderWorks, a consulting firm specializing in border security and management, including border infrastructure projects. Read the full story at

Popular public art piece in Brownsville hit by ‘tagging’

An uplifting example of public art in downtown Brownsville has been defaced by spray-painting vandals, while other properties around downtown and Palm Boulevard have been targeted in recent weeks as well. Perhaps a week and a half ago, the colorful “Bloom Where You Are Planted” mural at East 9th and East Adams Street was “tagged” by clumsy black lettering defined by city ordinance as graffiti. Mayor Trey Mendez, who posted a photo of the damaged mural on his Facebook page, said he’s observed an uptick in unauthorized spray painting over the last month, and encouraged residents to report such activity to the Brownsville Police Department. Read the full story at

RGV Reef begins major construction

Friends of RGV Reef has launched a major new phase of its artificial reefing project off South Padre Island, even as fishing boats reel in large numbers of red snapper the reef is already producing. Gary Glick, president of Friends of RGV Reef, said 20 million pounds of concrete railroad ties and other materials are being sunk over the next few weeks at the 1,650-acre reef site eight nautical miles off the coast and 14 nautical miles north of the Brazos Santiago Pass jetties. “We’ll move more material in this one deployment than exists in any of the other Texas reefs,” he said. “We’re going to lay down the bones of a new 400-acre nursery reef.” Read the full story at

SpaceX aims for Starship launch before spring

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, in a Dec. 27 Twitter post, expressed his hope that the Starship prototype under construction at the company’s Boca Chica Beach launch and test complex will fly in two or three months. SpaceX is moving quickly on construction of the vehicle, formerly known as Starship Mk3 and lately rechristened Starship V1.0, SN1, since the first full-size prototype (Mk1) was damaged during a pressurization test on Nov. 20. The plan had been to launch the non-orbital Mk1 to 65,000 feet, though Musk said the company decided even before the Nov. 20 incident that Mk1 would not fly. Read the full story at

Photo guide highlights Sand Sheet diversity

It might not look like much from inside a car whizzing down U.S. 281 or U.S. 77, but the landscape through the heart of the South Texas Sand Sheet holds a greater diversity of plant life than anywhere else in the country, maybe even the world. That’s according to Forrest S. Smith, co-author of “A Photographic Guide to the Vegetation of the South Texas Sand Sheet” and Dan L. Duncan Endowed Director of the Texas Native Seeds Program at Texas A&M’s Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute in Kingsville. Read the full story at