San Benito keeps parks closed; Commissioners oppose proposal to open trail

Heavin Trail lights

SAN BENITO — As Harlingen officials begin reopening parks and public buildings, San Benito leaders are extending their shutdown.

Earlier this week, city commissioners opposed City Manager Manuel De La Rosa’s proposal to reopen the Heavin Resaca Trail, a favorite attraction drawing residents to walk, jog and exercise.

While Commissioner Rene Villafranco supported De La Rosa’s plan, Mayor Ben Gomez and Commissioner Tony Gonzales warned the proposal could lead to the spread of the coronavirus.

In a meeting, De La Rosa told commissioners his proposal was in line with Gov. Greg. Abbott’s plan to reopen the state’s parks.

“Obviously, you’ve seen what the governor has now instituted, opening beaches and state parks so there is a very practical approach, or methodical, to how things are going to get open,” De La Rosa told commissioners during a Tuesday meeting.

“We’re still recommending the parks continue to be closed with the exception of the pedestrian walking trails … to allow people to walk, exercise as long as they maintain social distancing,” he said. “But to open the parks completely — restrooms, drinking fountains — I think would be imprudent.”

Villafranco supported the plan to give residents an exercise venue.

“I’m in favor of opening up the trail,” he said. “People need to exercise.”

Gomez opposes plan

But Gomez stood opposed to the plan, citing the trail’s pavilion, known as a popular hangout.

“I know people want to walk and they’ve been waiting for the trail to open but me, personally, I think we should keep it closed a little longer,” he said. “My concern is just if people start gathering in groups and really close to each other because we do have a lot of people who come to our trail and walk. I know people gather at that pavilion and that’s creating those social gatherings regardless if it’s a party or people just talking to each other. We don’t want that.”

In San Benito, with a population of about 25,000, health officials have confirmed 39 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, he said.

“My first concern and priority is the well-being and the health of this community,” Gomez said. “To me, the health comes first.”

Gomez also addressed mayoral candidate and former Commissioner Rick Guerra’s call for the city’s disclosure of financial data amid the business shutdown stemming from federal guidelines and state and local orders aimed at preventing the virus’ spread.

“It’s hurting people economically and financially but this is a very serious virus,” Gomez said. “I know financially and economically it’s going to take its toll.”

Harlingen reopening

In Harlingen, officials have reopened parks while playground equipment remains off limits, city spokeswoman Irma Garza said.

At City Hall, officials have reopened the Tony Butler Golf Course, the farmers’ market and public buildings including the library and police department lobby.

Meanwhile, Cameron County health officials believe the number of new COVID-19 cases is dropping.

“Several of our facilities remained open with restrictions throughout the pandemic. Those that were closed have been opened with restrictions including the use of face coverings, social distancing, limiting capacity to no more than 25 percent,” City Manager Dan Serna stated.

“This is being done in accordance with orders from the governor. We will continue to implement measures that allow us to open all facilities with an emphasis on protecting the health and wellness of our employees and citizens.”

fdelvalle@valleystar.com