The letter I wrote last week in response to the clear-cutting of Live
oaks in Aransas Pass appears to have touched a nerve. Thank you for
sharing my words and adding your own. It is clear the community
consensus is that the trees should never have been cut down. And by
community, I refer to the entire Coastal Bend. Yes, this decision
affects those of us residing outside of Aransas Pass, too. Those trees
are gone. Forever. They were part of the history of this region and a
rapidly disappearing ecosystem known as the Live Oak/Redbay forest.
Removing them is like decapitating the plant community, and replacing
them with palm trees is like putting a jack-o-lantern on the headless
Many of you have asked about the timeline of this decision. An article
written by Norma Martinez and published in the Aransas Pass Progress
Index states that representatives on behalf of Keep Aransas Pass
Beautiful drafted the concept of removing the Live oaks and replacing
them with palm trees. These representatives are volunteers from the
community, not employees of the city. Their function is to beautify
their service area with permission from public officials representing
their service area. KAPB conceived the plan to remove the trees then
approached TxDOT about funding their proposal to “revamp” the median.
They applied for TxDOT’s green ribbon landscape grant. After the
funding was approved, KAPB representatives approached the Aransas Pass
City Council about completing the project and to secure approval for
transplanting the oaks to Veterans Memorial Park. Later it was
determined the oaks could not be transplanted. Ms. Martinez’ article
asserts the oaks will be replaced with palms and “native grasses.”
First, as I explained in my previous letter, the value of the Live
oaks in terms of natural and cultural history – as well as retail
value – should have indicated the need for an immediate revamping of
the design…not the median. Ironically, the grant money is awarded by
TxDOT as part of a green ribbon landscape program to improve air
quality. Mature live oaks do more to improve air quality than freshly
planted palm trees. Wildflowers, such as winecups (Callirhoe
involucrata), that have been thriving independently in that median
contribute to clean air, too. The existing plan calls for
bermudagrass, an exotic-invasive turfgrass, not native grasses.
Further, establishing pallets of newly-planted bermudagrass requires
excessive water, another precious natural resource. Add to that,
fertilizers to make the turf grow; herbicide to suppress weeds;
routine lawn maintenance to keep it manicured: any potential for
improving air quality has now been offset by loud and air-polluting
So, aside from being part of this subtropical paradise known as Texas’
Coastal Bend, why would I care? What do I want? I care, because for
the past year I have participated in an Aransas Pass-based non-profit
organization comprised of people who truly care about their city. I
have learned about the economic transitions in Aransas Pass that have
occurred since the late-70s and early-80s. I have learned about
improvements within the school district and budget cuts intended to
make AP a better place to live, to work, and to play. I’ve heard
first-hand the dreams of merchants to make downtown a destination. I
want their voices to be heard and their interests – OUR collective
interests – to be respected. The city has plans to create a system of
hike and bike trails and at least forty more trees are expected to be
removed to make way for these new amenities. These amenities add value
to the community but only if they do not destroy existing attractions.
All of this can happen in very simple, measurable ways. First, modify
the Harrison median design to call for Live oaks instead of palms, and
Horseherb or other no-mow alternatives to bermudagrass. Better yet,
restore part of the Live Oak/Redbay forest by also installing
understory plants, such as Redbay, Yaupon Holly, Southern Wax Myrtle,
American Beautyberry, Coralbean, and Turk’s Cap. Native ornamental
grasses and coastal prairie perennials would be another sound
alternative to the proposed plan. Second, establish city and county
ordinances to preserve Live oaks (to mirror those in Aransas County).
The damage has already been done, as they say, but we do not have to
let it happen again. Detour the route of the hike and bike trails to
allow those forty trees to be saved. And finally, put palm trees in
open spaces without disturbing mature, native vegetation.
The letting of the contract will be March 17th, so there is still time
to make your voice heard. Share your opinion in concise, precise, and
clear statements with Mayor Adan Chapa and the four members of the
Aransas Pass City Council; Representative Geanie Morrison and Senator
Lois Kolkhorst; Keep Texas Beautiful and their local affiliates; and
TxDOT. Although we cannot instantly restore the majesty of those regal live oaks, we can still do the right thing: we can move beyond
accusations to find solutions to conserve, preserve, restore, and
celebrate our community. Together.
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