By Kathi Bliss
Score: one for Martindale homeowners.
Many residents of Martindale found cause to celebrate on Monday afternoon after County Judge Tom Bonn chose to deny a mass gathering permit to music promoters who wanted to use the San Marcos River as a music venue.
The proposed gathering, dubbed “Float Fest 2013” was meant to be a one-day live music festival, held at Don’s Fish Camp and set against the backdrop of the recreational draw of the San Marcos River in Martindale. Unfortunately for the would-be entrepreneurs, after hearing more than an hour and a half of testimony from the property owners and residents in the surrounding area, Bonn opted to deny the permit, which said the festival might draw as many as 4,000 people on Aug. 31, 2013.
The promoters, Marcus Federman and Dan Brickley expressed their desire to be good stewards of the community and to build a festival that Martindale could be proud of. What they proposed, they said, was a day-long music festival that would shut down by 10 p.m. and include a variety of live music events. In the future, they said, they hoped to provide children’s activities, possibly expanding their festival to become similar to WurstFest.
However, the ongoing clashes between area residents and the existing riverfront tubing businesses proved too tall a hurdle, and the men were denied a “mass gathering” permit which would have allowed the number of patrons they hoped for to gather. This decision was made despite the fact that the State Health Department offered a recommendation that the event should be allowed to proceed, and Fire Marshal Warren Lay said he saw no inherent fire danger on the property.
The dangers, however, were spelled out by the testimony of more than 20 neighboring property owners, and by Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law, each of whom reminded Bonn of the myriad dangers such an event could pose.
Foremost among the concerns expressed by those offering testimony against the event is the general behavior of tubers on the San Marcos River, which has become a popular summer spot for college students since a crackdown on alcohol laws in New Braunfels and San Marcos.
Those patrons, the neighbors said, often engage in risky behaviors such as drinking and driving and drinking to excess while floating the river. One relayed an account of a young woman they encountered last summer who, suffering from alcohol poisoning, had to be dragged from the river by her friends.
Others told tales of being harassed on their own property by belligerent, trespassing tubers, of having to clean bags upon bags of bottles and cans off the river bank, and some even complained of having human excrement in bags thrown at them, or left of their property.
Several made mention of an incident late last summer where a tuber, presumably intoxicated, jumped from a tree into the water and was killed.
Norma Cardenas raised a specific concern about the elderly in the neighborhood, several of whom she said told her they had to wear ear plugs and sleep with their heads between pillows to drown out the noise of the late-night parties at the two (soon to be three) tubing camps. She also reminded Bonn that parking for the event would be a nightmare, and that although the promoters said they had ample parking set aside on the property, they did not realize that many tubers park on the neighboring streets whether parking is available inside the camps or not.
“What if the emergency services they need can’t get to them because of all the cars?” she said. “What if their neighbors can’t get to them? They’ve worked their whole lives to have their nice places out here, and now they can’t enjoy them!”
Cardenas was among property owners who had circulated petitions, gathering more than 125 signatures from area residents asking Bonn to deny the permit.
John McComb, however, made the passionate point that he hoped the testimony would open up the bigger conversation within the County and the community, as to the impacts that increased recreational traffic on the river is having, not only on the residents but on the river itself.
He encouraged Bonn and the community at large to continue with the discussion, in hopes that a cooperative effort could be reached to secure enjoyment not only for the property owners, but for those hoping to use the river recreationally.
After extended, heated testimony in which none but the two promoters offered support for the project, Bonn made a ruling that the mass gathering permit would be denied. He did, however, encourage Federman and Bickley to consider moving their event to another venue in Caldwell County, reminding them that, although their “captive” river audience might not be available in another locale, that they might find a draw from an entirely different crowd.
With the permit having been denied, Law reminded the promoters that if they chose to hold the event without the permit, that he would shut the event down, and assured the neighbors that deputies would patrol riverfront areas as much as possible during the coming holiday weekend.