Tubers, kayakers and swimmers enjoy the San Marcos River between San Marcos and Martindale in June 2013. PHOTO by PATRICK LEWIS
by BRAD ROLLINS
AUSTIN — Under a bill approved by a lopsided margin in the Texas Senate on Monday, residents in Caldwell and Guadalupe counties could vote to create the San Marcos River Special Recreation District empowered to levy a fee on tube, kayak and canoe rentals.
Revenue from the surcharge, statutorily capped at $3 per person, would be used to fund law enforcement and cleanup efforts within the special district. The district could also impose a fee on people who use a shuttle service to travel to or from the river, even if they bring their own gear.
In addition, the special recreation district’s board would be authorized to adopt ordinances to regulate litter; combat alcohol consumption by minors; and promote “conservation of the district’s natural resources.”
Because Senate Bill 234 would “promote safety and a clean environment, we believe it would increase safe and lawful tourism in the area,” said State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat who authored the legislation. “All Texans have the right to enjoy the San Marcos River, but they should do so safely and lawfully.”
More than 80,000 people each year use the increasingly crowded stretch of the river that forms the boundary between Caldwell Guadalupe counties, Zaffirini said. She cited the drowning death last August of Tychicus Foston, a 20-year-old Lake Jackson man whom authorities have said was drinking illegally while floating the river prior to his death.
“Residents of Caldwell and Guadalupe counties do not want any more preventable tragedies to occur on the San Marcos River,” Zaffirini said. “Our bill would protect this precious natural resource, enhance public safety and enjoyment of the river and preserve the private property rights of area landowners,” who have complained bitterly about the floating parties that begin well before Memorial Day and last long after Labor Day each year.
The special recreation district would be governed by a seven-member board, six members of which would be appointed by the Caldwell and Guadalupe county commissioners courts; the seventh member would be chosen by the board itself from nominations made by cities within its jurisdiction. Voters in other counties along the San Marcos River could later opt to join the special river recreation district, the bill states.
The Senate voted 21-10 to approve the bill. San Marcos’ other state senator, New Braunfels Republican Donna Campbell, joined Zaffirini in voting for the legislation.
During a public hearing before the Senate’s Intergovernmental Relations committee on May 4, the bill enjoyed favorable testimony from a dozen supporters who included Martindale Mayor Doyle Mosier; Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law; San Marcos River Foundation executive director Dianne Wassenich; and Texas Rivers Protection Association president Tom Goynes.
Four people who testified against the bill were representatives of either Don’s Fish Camp or Texas State Tubes, two of the three river recreation outfitters that operate downstream from the city of San Marcos near Martindale. Eight others registered their objections with the committee but did not testify. These included Tom Spilman and Doug Davis, officers of the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas; Homero Lucero, senior vice president of the Texas Travel Industry Association; and Winter Prosapio, a communications executive at New Braunfels-based Schlitterbahn Waterparks & Resorts.
The legislation still must pass muster with the Texas House where a companion to Zaffirni’s bill, House Bill 2635, has been parked in the Special Purposes Districts committee since May 6. The House version is co-authored by State Rep. John Kuempel, a Seguin Republican, and State Rep. John Cryier, a Lockhart Republican.