(AUSTIN) —The Texas Senate yesterday (Monday) overwhelmingly approved legislation by Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that would promote safety and enjoyment on the San Marcos River and protect landowners’ private property rights.
Senate Bill (SB) 234 would authorize a local election to create a special recreation district along the portion of the San Marcos River that forms the boundary between Guadalupe and Caldwell counties, which is visited by more than 80,000 tubers and recreational users each year. The number of visitors to the river, especially for tubing, has increased substantially in recent years.
Due to a lack of rules and enforcement, however, this section of the river attracts minors who drink illegally and engage in other reckless and unlawful behaviors. As a result there are frequent alcohol-related incidents on the river ranging from minor to catastrophic in nature. Last summer, for example, 19-year old Tychicus Foston drowned after a day of tubing and drinking alcohol with friends. What’s more, landowners along the river face problems with excessive littering, trespassing and public intoxication.
“Residents of Caldwell and Guadalupe counties do not want any more preventable tragedies to occur on the San Marcos River,” Senator 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.”
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.
The bill caps the fee to be charged at $3 per person for rental of water oriented recreation equipment (tubes, canoes, kayaks) or for shuttle services for water oriented recreation if a customer brings their own equipment.
The district’s board also would have the ability to adopt reasonable rules and ordinances regarding littering and litter abatement and other rules to protect the health and safety of persons or property in the district, subject to the public’s paramount right to navigate inland water.
Offenses would be a Class C misdemeanor and would be enforceable by local law enforcement.
Many local business owners testified at the bill’s committee hearing that their businesses, including campgrounds, fly fishing guides and canoe and kayak rental services, have been damaged by the unruly and lewd behavior of intoxicated and frequently underage minors using the river.
“Because SB 234 would promote safety and a clean environment, we believe it would increase safe and lawful tourism to the area,” Senator Zaffirini said. “All Texans have the right to enjoy the San Marcos River, but they should do so safely and lawfully.”
SB 234 is supported by the commissioners’ courts of Guadalupe and Caldwell counties and the City of Martindale. The bill now goes to the Texas House of Representatives for consideration. Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, will sponsor it. He also authored the companion bill, House Bill 2635.