Some islanders reported disgust over the weekend about heaps of trash left on beaches and streets after the Memorial Day holiday. The laments prompted a brief social-media skirmish between leaders about litter-control spending.
Tens of thousands of people crowded onto beaches this weekend for the Memorial Day holiday, and although residents are accustomed to summer crowds and litter, many complained the debris was worse this time than usual.
The trash seemed worse, anyway, Galveston resident Barbara Canetti said.
One of Canetti’s friends filled three large trash bags with garbage from the beach between 27th and 29th streets Monday morning, she said.
“Everyone is so upset by this,” Canetti said. “It’s not that we don’t want tourists. Of course, we want tourists. But we don’t want people leaving trash.”
Dumpsters at Stewart and East beaches were full Tuesday morning, according to the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.
The park board didn’t immediately have data on how much litter it collected over the weekend.
“Unfortunately, we tend to see a spike in trash volumes on holiday weekends in comparison with typical summer days in Galveston,” Chief Tourism Officer Michael Woody said.
The park board crews clean beaches between 4 a.m. and 6 p.m., he said.
“Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have in light of the coronavirus pandemic,” Woody said. “We have received a lot of positive feedback and before and after photos of the beaches after the holiday.”
The city received complaints about areas that are heavily traveled by tourists, spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.
“There’s no doubt many people were not being responsible and picking up after themselves,” Barnett said.
City park crews start cleaning at the busiest parks daily, Barnett said.
“There was a great deal of trash and litter left behind over the weekend, particularly at Menard Park,” Barnett said.
BUDGET CUTS AFFECT CLEANUP
It’s difficult to enforce bans on littering because doing so would require posting numerous police officers along the seawall, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.
Although there was litter around Galveston this weekend, that’s normal for holiday weekends, Maxwell said.
“This one was a little exacerbated because people have been cooped up,” Maxwell said.
The city cleans up litter along the city streets, parks and medians, while the park board maintains the beaches and the seawall, Barnett said.
The city picks up trash with about $1.8 million of its $2.9 million parks and recreation budget — money that’s also used for landscaping and maintenance of parks and corridors, according to city budgets.
The park board had dedicated $2.6 million in its 2020 budget to beach cleaning, according to the park board budget. But when hotel tax collections plummeted in the initial weeks of shutdown, the park board slashed its hotel tax-dependent budget from $30.3 million to $17.7 million, which cut beach cleaning down to $1.7 million, according to budget documents.
Those resources became somewhat of a conversation Sunday when park board Chairman Spencer Priest commented on a social media post that criticized litterers and the trash they leave behind.
“We need more dollars to go toward beach cleaning and beach patrol,” Priest wrote in the comment.
Priest then told people to ask Galveston City Council for more money toward safety and cleanliness.
Priest couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
Instead, the city could use the hotel tax money to clean the city, Maxwell wrote Sunday in a reply to Priest’s post.
“We give the park board 100 percent of any tourist money we get,” Maxwell said Tuesday.
If the park board didn’t think it could clean up the trash, it could let the city handle it, Maxwell said, adding that he didn’t have a problem with how the park board cleans.
“The park board did a good job,” Maxwell said.