A compromise between Guadalupe County and the promoter of music, camping and tubing festival Float Fest has been reached, and area residents will see up to 20,000 festivalgoers the weekend of July 20-22.
The compromise to allow 20,000 Float Fest attendees rather than 30,000 attendees—what Float Fest originally requested—was reached last month after Float Fest President Marcus Federman appealed the commissioners’ decision to deny the outdoor music festival permit Feb. 27.
During the Feb. 27 permit hearing, dozens of residents turned up to share concerns about noise, traffic, safety and potential damage to the environment.
The festival—now in its fifth year—involves attendees floating down the San Marcos River and getting out at Cool River Ranch, where they can watch musical performances and camp for the weekend. Last year, Float Fest was granted a permit for 15,000 attendees.
Residents who live near Cool River Ranch in Guadalupe County and the San Marcos River say Scull Road, which leads to the 221-acre Cool River Ranch, cannot handle the number of vehicles expected during the weekend or the emergency vehicles that may be needed. They also take issue with the number of cans and amount of garbage that Float Fest attendees produce, as well as the noise produced by the performers and attendees.
“It’s insane,” said Tom Goynes, who lives on the banks of the San Marcos River and is a vocal opponent of the festival. “They are going to have way too many cars, too many people, too many tents, not enough cops. They seem to be just driven to get more and more [attendees], and the county is going to allow it.”
During the Feb. 27 hearing, Federman and his lawyer submitted a 150-page safety and traffic plan that includes 120 police officers, parking control, grounds control, more lighting, perimeter checkpoints monitoring and K-9 units.
Joseph Stallone, Federman’s legal counsel, said this year, Federman collaborated with public safety officials to ensure the traffic and safety plan was adequate. He called Float Fest a “win-win” for the community, pointing to the sales tax revenue that would be received throughout the weekend when as many as 30,000 attendees inevitably spend money in and around Guadalupe County.
“I hope the commissioners would agree and acknowledge that it’s been a different permitting process this year,” Stallone said. “What we put in here will be followed to a T, and if it’s not, it’ll be with everybody’s knowledge and acceptance.”
Last year, Federman spent $1,465 on mesh bags for people floating to use as trash bags, according to the application. He also hired crews to clean the river during and after Float Fest and spent about $10,000 over the last three years on a Keep the River Clean initiative.
Federman said he would also provide neighbor passes to residents along Cottonseed Run and San Marcos River Ranch allowing them to bypass festival traffic. He said letters will also be sent out to residents at least 10 days prior to the festival’s start.
Following the county’s settlement with Float Fest, Federman and Stallone did not respond to requests for comment.
No man’s land
Technically, no local entity has jurisdiction over the San Marcos River—including the section Float Fest uses that flows through Guadalupe, Hays and Caldwell counties—so commissioners cannot regulate what happens while festival attendees float the river. Float Fest has contracted with tubing companies to provide tubes and coolers, according to Federman’s application. Alcohol consumption is permitted on the river and festival grounds.
The issue of who can regulate the river is one that state Sen. Judith Zaffarini, D-Laredo, has tried to address since 2014. Representing parts of San Marcos, Seguin, Lockhart, Martindale and Luling, Zaffarini has unsuccessfully tried to pass bills that 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.
Her latest attempt was during the 85th legislative session when she proposed Senate Bill 965. The bill passed in the Senate but died in a House committee. Similar to Zaffarini’s past bills, it allowed the county to create a water recreation safety zone, impose fees on tubing rentals and shuttles associated with tubing, and to enter the river. Collected revenue would go to paying police officers to monitor the water recreation safety zone.
The permit Float Fest filed was for an outdoor music festival under Section 2104 of The Texas Occupations Code. The permit is needed outside of a municipality for “any form of musical entertainment provided by live performances that occurs on two or more consecutive days or on any two days during a three-day period if more than 5,000 persons attend any performance.”
A similar permit under Chapter 751 of the Texas Health and Safety Code says a mass gathering permit is needed for any gathering outside the limits of a city that has more than 2,500 people or more than 500 people if 51 percent or more of the people are “reasonably” expected to be younger than 21 years old and “it is planned or may reasonably be expected” that alcohol would be sold, served or consumed at the gathering.
Robert Etlinger, Guadalupe County’s assistant attorney, said the language in both ordinances is vague. Under both permits, officials must decide whether, among other things, the festival protects the community from health and safety dangers, but under the outdoor music festival permit, the entire commissioners can rule on the permit, while under the mass gathering permit, only a county judge or his designee can issue a ruling.
He said another difference is the application fee for a mass gatherings permit is $400, and the application fee for an outdoor music festival permit is $5.
“We’re going to be trying to get with some of our legislators to see if we can’t provide some level of clarity to these statutes,” Etlinger said. “If anything, there shouldn’t be two sets of statutes that overlap.”
Three months to go
According to Float Fest’s Facebook page, the 2017 festival was sold out. Bands included Cage the Elephant, Girl Talk, Passion Pit, Zedd, Weezer and Mac Miller.
A March 27 post on its Facebook Page said the Float Fest 2018 lineup, schedule and tickets would be coming soon.