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Protecting Our Native Trees
by Thomas Ray Garcia
published May 2017

At the Pharr city commission meeting on Monday, April 3rd, several community activists spoke in favor of protecting the ancient oak trees off of West Kelly Ave. and South Jackson Rd. The plot of land formerly abutting Eli Whitney Elementary School has become the site of a Fazoli's Italian restaurant slated to open this summer. Since 2011, commercial ventures such as CostCo, At Home, and Raising Cane's have dominated the area, and the trees have paid the price.

Pharr citizen, Dr. K.C. Fletcher spearheaded an initiative to save the trees with a petition campaign, which amassed over 150 signatures county-wide. He spoke before the commission to raise awareness about the economic and environmental benefits of trees.

"Removal or damage to these Fazoli's trees because of lack of enforcement of required best management practices will not be okay as we welcome another new business into Pharr," said Dr. Fletcher. Two University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley students, including Julissa Roman, President of UT-RGV's Environmental Awareness Club, also explained how trees mitigate the effects of climate change.

In response to the activists' public comments, City Manager, Juan Guerra affirmed that the City of Pharr expects Fazoli's to protect the trees. According to Guerra, "There's an incentive agreement with the company to save all those trees... so if they want the incentive, they gotta maintain those trees. So the expectation is that all those trees should stay." A round of applause followed the proclamation, which left the audience with a mixture of hope and concern.

Although construction has not yet begun, activists are wary of potential miscommunication between the construction company and the City of Pharr. They are also concerned about the costeffectiveness of the incentive agreement and whether it would persuade Fazoli's not to demolish the trees in favor of more parking spaces.

Because the public has made their stance clear, Dr. Fletcher hopes the City of Pharr will abide by city ordinances to preserve their trees.

"We're asking that ordinance 2017-02 be strictly enforced," Dr. Fletcher said.