“It’s really sad,” Olvera said on July 10. “It almost brought us to tears; we hadn’t heard anything until they were marking trees yesterday morning.”
Martinez said she was informed by an anonymous George West citizen that the trees were being removed prior to discussion on July 10.
“I stopped it today when we had the uproar going on,” Martinez said.
The council was scheduled to discuss the proposed tree removal to make room for youth football and soccer practice fields during their upcoming July 15 meeting. This project was part of the city’s park improvement plan according to Martinez.
George West City Council member Louis Salinas said they were clearing out the hackberry and mesquite trees to set up a practice field. Permanent structures can’t be built at the park since the land is part of a flood zone.
“I believe that the councilman thought that we were doing something for the betterment of the children in the community,” Martinez said. “Did we go about it the wrong way? Probably so.”
Martinez said a private contractor was used to remove the trees but couldn’t recall their name. City employees were supposedly just trimming the other trees.
George West Mayor Sylvia Steele said she didn’t know who gave the order for the trees to be removed. She also said it was possible the person who did it could have had the dates mixed up since it was likely the proposal would pass following discussion. Martinez said it was all a misunderstanding.
“It’s on the agenda for goodness sakes for this Monday,” Steele said “The practice field is a wonderful and good idea, I was all for getting it on the agenda and getting it approved. It would go flying through with an approval since it’s for the town.”
Martinez said this project, like any other, wouldn’t please every citizen. Scheduling projects like this for the council’s agenda is intended to give the public an opportunity to voice their concerns. But since the project was implemented prior to discussion, the public didn’t get their usual opportunity.
“I understand having something for the kids, but this is a residential and quiet neighborhood,” Olvera said. It’s going to change the feel and traffic of the neighborhood.”
Martinez also said it’s not required by law to tell the public when projects are occurring, but they are posted on council agendas to give the public an opportunity to comment.
Martinez said the neighborhood likely would have been informed about the trees getting removed had the council approved it beforehand.
“We didn’t know we have to inform each person of each thing the city is doing,” Salinas said. “If it’s a major project that takes thousands and millions (of dollars), then yeah, but for little projects for our kids, it’s not much to spend for the kids.”
Martinez said the anonymous caller also told her that the land was known to be home to horny toads and Houston toads. She said when she found out it was happening, and that there were endangered and protected species in the area, she went out to the park to stop the removal of the trees and ordered the crews to leave the uprooted trees in place for now until the city looks into the situation some more.
“On behalf of the city, we apologize if we offended anyone or if we have disturbed the habitat,” Martinez said. “It was all with good intention.”
The future of the park was discussed with no final action taken during the city council’s meeting on Monday, July 15.
However, the council did decide to remove the dead trees from the park.
The future of the park will be discussed at the next city council meeting in August.