South Padre Island beachgoers want lifeguards on duty

Juan Cuellar of Mission spent the day Tuesday with family members on South Padre Island at Isla Blanca Park.

Flag advisories warned that there was a heavy surf and dangerous currents - conditions not rare on the beaches at the Island - and a good reason, Cuellar said, for lifeguards to be on watch.

"If I saw somebody drowning, I TMm not going to risk my life to go in," Cuellar said. "That's why there's supposed to be a lifeguard."

Stephanie Garcia agrees.

"The waves are pretty strong sometimes, so no, I don TMt think it's safe - to be alone no - but it would be a lot safer if there were lifeguards around," Garcia said.

Cameron County Parks Director Javier Mendez said he's heard the concern many times - and adds that the county has considered implementing a lifeguard program before.

The county has even consulted with Galveston officials about their program.

Still, major concerns remain.

"The liability on us having lifeguards in the park, if someone were to drown and it's protected or guarded, then we would be liable for that," Mendez said.

The county parks system's only funding is from park fees, Mendez said.

That revenue is about $4 million each year, to run 15 parks. Mendez said a lifeguard program would cost nearly half a million dollars each year.

"If we were to incorporate a lifeguard program, we'd have to find the funds for that," Mendez said, "whether it's through beach user fees, or RV rental fees or concessions fees."

The Town of South Padre Island currently has lifeguards in the form of a beach patrol for beaches inside their city limits.

Town Spokesperson Tim Howell said the program runs from March 1 to Labor Day.

The town pays $100,000 to employ 30 lifeguards certified by the United States Lifesaving Association.

Mendez said the county and town of SPI haven't been able to agree on a fee to extend the beach patrol to popular county parks such Isla Blanca Park and beach access five and six.

Mendez said, for now, he hopes people will be responsible for their children and themselves, use common sense, they wont swim after drinking or eating and pay attention to these flag advisory posted warnings.