County feins ignorance in tree massacre
Last night was quite lively at the Village Council meeting held at the Sailing Club. It was standing room only, most people were there for the tree fight -- the discussion with the county about the destruction of the trees on 27th Avenue and S. Bayshore Drive.
The consensus was that the county was totally wrong in destroying the large old trees without notifiying anyone in advance.
Esther Calas, the County's Public Works Director was there with a few of her staff, including Leandro Oña, Chief of the Highway Division, who played dumb the whole night, insisting that they did no wrong. He did most of the talking for the county. The county folks basically just went through the motions, I am surprised they even bothered to show up for the meeting.
What they did wrong, besides destroying the trees, was not notifying the residents and powers that be in the area. Commissioner Sarnoff's office was not notified of the tree cutting, neither was the BID, the Village Council or any resident or business in the area and by law that is to be done.
Mr. Oña from the county insisted that the notices went out but no one in the room received one. I get certified mail every time someone wants to paint their roof, but for this tree massacre -- nothing.
Haydee Wheeler of the NET office admitted to not getting the notices out, so Mr. Oña's insistence was all wet. It was true that no one was notified.
Michelle Niemeyer, chair of the Village Council, told the county people that they deflected all mention of trees at the various meetings regarding the 27th Avenue project over the years. They would emphasize parking changes on the street and the traffic circle and things like that, but there was never a mention of old trees being destroyed.
Liliana Dones, of the Tree Watch group said, "Never once did anyone say 'oh, by the way, some trees have to go.' " She called the County's tactics "underhanded." She asked for "really big trees" as replacement mitigation trees. Liliana helped write the city's tree ordinance.
Neighbors spoke up and all who spoke were furious. They felt that quality of life is being destroyed in the Grove because the Grove is defined by the trees. Santiago Villegas, of Tree Watch said that the trees are characters, as much as the residents are. He said, "We are a village, not a city. We don't want 27th Avenue to look like the rest of 27th Avenue," meaning the rest of the long street going all the way north which is mostly cement.
The workers on site, on Tuesday, doing the destruction, were rude and insensitive and people on the scene trying to stop the destruction did not find them to be very professional with their threats to bulldoze anyone standing in their way. The project manger on site refused to take a call from County Commissioner Xavier Suarez when he called to stop the workers. Suarez was present for part of the meeting last night and he said, "If it was up to me, I would never have allowed that particular plan," meaning the whole 27th Avenue project.
Local arborist Bob Brennan spoke about the ficus trees that were destroyed saying, "I am not defending the ficus murder."
Ron Nelson, Comm. Sarnoff's Chief of Staff, told me that he was out of town for a bit and he came home on Tuesday, drove by the trees and almost flipped out. He was in shock. He had no clue about this either. Ron is one of the founders of Tree Man Trust and a big activist when it comes to our tree canopy. He said, "I don't get why they took the ficus trees down." He went on to say that, "In the Grove, we don't believe that a sidewalk has to be straight," meaning they could meander around trees.
The county insists that a right turn lane needed to be added to get into the Seminole Boat Ramp area and that is why the trees were destroyed. Most don't understand why they just didn't move the entrance over a few feet to the right, rather than murder full grown old trees. On top of that, no one has really seen much traffic in that area for years. No one understands why the turn lane needed to be widened. The county insisted there was traffic there. There isn't.
Another very big issue is that it turns out that the county sort of bait and switched the plans. No one present had seen the final plans even though the county insisted they did. Rather than take any blame, Mr. Oña and his group just kept coming up with stupid excuse after stupid excuse, insisting that the 60 people in the room were mistaken and the county was right.
In the end, Nzeribe Ihekwaba, head of the City of Miami Public Works Department, said that the permit has been revoked and there is no current permit for tree cutting. The County had to remove 17 trees as part of phase one and only two were left to go. So the damage is done. But still, no more work may be done until the City restores the permit.
A group of individuals will meet on Monday to discuss the future of the project, including members from the Village Council, the County, the City, Tree Man Trust and residents.
It's a shame that the county has no conscience when it comes to people's feelings, but they were all like robots last night, towing the policy line, making themselves look like fools, while they tried to make the Grove citizens and Village Council look like fools.
This of course isn't over. Some residents are talking about a weekend tree vigil. Others are looking into suing the county.
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