Disposable container and cooler size ordinances are back in effect on New Braunfels rivers

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A controversial disposable containers ban on New Braunfels rivers is back after a Texas appeals court lifted a three-year hold on two ordinances last year. The ban, which was first introduced in 2011, took effect again Nov. 1, and the city is working to educate citizens before river season is in full effect.

“We have been training our staff on the ordinance: how to speak to people about it, how to answer questions,” said Kristi Aday, New Braunfels assistant city manager.

The disposable containers ordinance applies to the Comal River and the portion of the Guadalupe River that falls within the New Braunfels city limits. It prohibits disposable food and beverage containers, such as cans and plastic containers. City officials said the ordinance supplements existing prohibitions on glass and Styrofoam on the rivers that are aimed to protect the environment and keep visitors safe.

A cooler size ordinance also limits each person to taking one cooler on the river that may be 16 quarts or less. Coolers should also be secured to prevent spillage of the contents, which was already the local law.

Although opponents have said the ordinances target alcohol consumption, city officials said they strive to reduce litter, stating on the city’s website that any beverage is allowed on the rivers as long as they are in a reusable container.

But Jim Ewbank, the attorney representing the Tourist Associated Businesses of Comal County in a lawsuit against the city regarding the ban, said the definition of a disposable container is relative.

“You can’t have a penal code that is subject to interpretation,” he said, adding that while one person might dispose of a plastic water bottle, another person might reuse it.

Those who violate the ordinance will be subject to a fine of up to $500.

“The officer’s first goal is always compliance, so if they see someone with a disposable container, the first thing they are going to tell them is to throw it out,” Aday said. “Officers always have the discretion in the field on how they want to approach the issue, again with the goal of being compliant.”

Aday said the City Council approved an $86,800 budget for the New Braunfels Convention and Visitors Bureau to steer the marketing of the ban that includes signage, printing, street teams, a website and other materials that educate citizens and visitors. The city estimated another $10,000 for supplemental signage.

Additional law enforcement will not be needed to enforce the ban, Aday said.

“It’ll be business as usual,” she said. “Usually on the weekends it’s all hands on deck, so all officers work. They have experience doing this from the 2012 and 2013 season, so they are familiar with what they expect to see. So it will just be a new rule to enforce, but they have certainly been trained on the ordinance and what to look for.”

The ban was in effect for two summers in 2012 and 2013, and Shane Wolf, owner of Rockin’ R River Rides reports a 50 percent profit loss the first summer and an estimated 25-30 percent the second summer.

Wolf said the ban made his hundreds of 48-quart coolers useless and also noted the hours spent educating customers on the ban. This time around, he said he and other river outfitters are better prepared to accommodate customers.

“We hope to make this as smooth as possible,” Aday said. “We’ve been working with the outfitters on rules and getting prepared, and they’ve been really responsive, too, and they’ve certainly taken advantage of the situation and will have nondisposable containers at their businesses as well.”

The lawsuit continues between the city of New Braunfels and the TABCC. Both sides are waiting to hear if the Texas Supreme Court will accept the case for oral argument. If it does not accept the case, the ban will remain in effect.

“The legal case is still under review by the Texas Supreme Court; however, in the meantime, the council directed staff to implement enforcement of these two ordinances,”  Aday said.

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Rachel Nelson
Rachel Nelson is editor of the New Braunfels edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She covers local business, new development, city and county government, health care, education and transportation. Rachel relocated to Central Texas from Amarillo in 2009 and is a graduate of Texas State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
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