Recreation District passes Senate, stalls in House
By LPR Staff
A handful of Texas Senators voted on Monday to give Caldwell County the assistance they have long required, a Water-Oriented Recreation District (WORD) encompassing the San Marcos River.
The District, which must be authorized by a majority vote of the Texas Legislature and then confirmed by Caldwel
l County voters, would be authorized to impose a tariff, up to $3 per person, for water-oriented rentals on the San Marcos River.
According to Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law, creation of the WORD, would not only allow for collection of additional funds for enforcement and cleanup of the area, but it would allow for Caldwell and Guadalupe Counties to create a set of ordinances and guidelines along the river.
“We have a higher death rate along the river than any other county surrounding us, even though we’re a smaller county,” Law said on Tuesday after learning the bill passed the Senate. “We need the help out there, to try to curb some of the behaviors that are happening.”
Last summer, 20-year-old Tychius “Wayne” Foston drowned on the San Marcos River after an afternoon of tubing and drinking with friends. Law reported more than 80 searches over the last 12 months, mostly resulting in the knowledge that friends had been separated from one another, or wandered out of the river on to private property after drinking heavily.
“We get up to 30,000 people on the river,” Law said of major events hosted by the three tubing outfitters on the San Marcos River. “And we simply don’t have the resources to deal with that, so passing this WORD will help us collect the funds that we need, to keep people safe out there.”
Law said he had spent two weeks at the State Capitol, knocking on doors of Senators and Representatives and asking them to pass the legislation, in an effort to provide Caldwell and Guadalupe Counties a bit of relief, and to pass the price of enforcement and cleanup to the outfitters and their customers, rather than strapping that cost on the backs of the taxpayers.
Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) sponsored a bill to create the WORD, which passed the Senate on Monday with a 21-10 vote.
“Residents of Caldwell and Guadalupe counties do not want any more preventable tragedies to occur on protect this precious natural resource, enhance public safety and enjoyment of the river and preserve the private property rights of area landowners.”
If voters approve, the district would be governed by a seven-member board, with three members appointed by each county commissioner’s court and one member selected by the district board from among nominations provided by each municipality included in the district. Once created, the district could levy a fee on water-oriented recreation businesses and use the revenues to fund public safety and health initiatives.
Unfortunately, the companion legislation, House Bill 2635, stalled in Committee in the Texas House, much the same as it did when it was introduced during the last Legislative Session.
While local residents do not oppose the creation of the district itself, some wish it had more “teeth,” including a can ban, much like the one imposed in Comal County.
Unfortunately, local opposition to a bill – in this case, a failure to support the bill because it does not include a “can ban” – often means it will not leave committee, and never be heard by the House for a vote.
Rep. John Cyrier (R-Lockhart), who co-authored the legislation with Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin) said he thinks the only hope for the bill, at this point, is that the approved Senate version is passed to the House and approved by a vote.
If the election to instate the WORD is approved, the District can, later, impose rules including a “can ban.” However, if the WORD does not pass the House, the voters will not have the opportunity to vote to create the District, and Caldwell County property owners will face another season of unruly, often underage, activity on the San Marcos River.
The last day to introduce new legislation in the Texas House is Friday; if the Senate version of the bill comes to the floor, it must be heard by the end of this month, or it will stall indefinitely.