By Kathi Bliss
Time has run out and hope is gone for San Marcos River residents who had hoped for a more peaceful summer.
Senate Bill 280, introduced to the Texas Legislature by Senator Judith Zaffrini during the recently-concluded legislative session died before it could establish a Water-Oriented Recreation District (WORD) to help govern activity in the area and collect fees and fines to pay for enforcement and cleanup.
Senator Zaffrini’s staff was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday afternoon, but members of the staff of State Representative Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Katy) were also familiar with the bill and were able to explain why the measure, which passed through two committee readings unanimously was suddenly killed, when it appeared as though passage was a “sure thing.”
“We got it through the committees and it was on the Local and Consent Calendar, because it’s a local bill that only impacts that area,” said MeLissa Nemecek, the Legislative Director for Kleinschmidt’s office. “But a bill on the Local and Consent Calendar can’t have any opposition, and there was opposition to this bill.”
Based on that opposition, she said, the legislation was “tagged,” and ultimately pulled from the calendar, dying before it could be brought for passage.
That opposition, she said, came from the most unlikely of places: property owners bordering the stretch of the San Marcos River in question, between San Marcos and the dam at Martindale, testified against the proposed legislation.
“[Some owners] wanted the ‘can ban’ to be included in this bill,” she said. “They wanted all-or-nothing, and instead of taking it one step at a time and getting this piece in place so at least there could be some enforcement, they chose to testify against it because it didn’t include the ban.”
Had the WORD been established, it would have had the authority to establish certain rules and regulations along the largely unmonitored stretch of river that has recently become a haven for tubers who find river governance in Hays and Comal Counties too restrictive.
Over time, as the river’s popularity has increased, new tubing businesses have joined the “old standby,” Don’s Fish Camp, in drawing college crowds to the once-peaceful stretch of river. Bordering property owners have complained consistently about noise, traffic, public drunkenness and traffic in their neighborhoods, as well as a rise in vandalism and littering on their properties in the river.
They had hoped that SB 280, or it’s companion bill, HB 791 in the Texas House, would have established the recreation district to help ease the burden on the residents.
Now, because the bill has died, the river will go without any restrictions and with only the law enforcement that the over-stretched Caldwell and Guadalupe County Sheriffs’ Departments can provide.
Zaffrini’s office returned a call on Wednesday afternoon suggesting that they would continue working on the issue, and may reintroduce the bill at their next opportunity, which will be during the 2015 Regular Legislative Session. The Senator, herself returned calls, but was unavailable to speak personally while in the Special Legislative Session.