Galveston residents question fee for dead Ike-sculpture tree

Galveston resident Donna Liebbert says it's "sheer stupidity" to have the annual fee for a tree that's been in the location for about 100 years. (Erik Barajas)

January 14, 2011 4:22:38 PM PST
It was a sign of transformation for Galveston Island after Hurricane Ike as artists created incredible sculptures out of once magnificent trees that were killed in the storm. Now some homeowners who live by those sculptures are fuming over a fee the city is charging because the sculptures lie in the city's right of way. We spoke with some of those residents who say this is typical of how the city does business.

When one storm-damaged tree from Hurricane Ike was turned into art, the city of Galveston decided it was now worthy of a tax in the form of a permit because the sculpture sits in the city's right of way.

"Bear in mind, the tree had been there for a hundred years prior to its carving,"said resident Donna Leibbert.

Once her renewal notice came in, Leibbert spoke at City Council, saying the annual fee represented everything wrong about the island's recovery after Ike. Priorities are wrong, she says, and local government inefficient.

"In time and money and paperwork, it cost them far more than $10 -- probably close to $50 in order to process a $10 fee," said Leibbert.

Just around the corner from her home, Jul Kamen has had it. After six years of island living, she is packing up. Kamen's is frustrated with the fact that while the city decides to tax sculptures on the right of way, blatant code violations go unnoticed. A burned home across the street caught fire more than six months ago.

"And it's been sitting like that ever since. They recently came and boarded it up," Kamen said.

When she walks over to the next block, there is a dead tree with its limbs falling in the yard of a vacant home.

"If we want to see this city cleaned up, this is now our unpaid volunteer daily job," said Kamen.

As both homeowners argue that recovery from the hurricane should be farther along, Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski says while it may not be in areas everyone appreciates, progress is being made.

"We are rebuilding the waste water treatment plant, the sewer lift stations, things that aren't sexy, but these are the reasons why Galveston was disabled," said Mayor Jaworski.

While some acknowledge that strides have been made, it has not been enough for at least one homeowner.

"I'm on box 38. My furniture is already sold," Kamen said.

The mayor says they do plan to waive the fee for the three homeowners it affected.