STAFF WRITER JARED FIELDS
As of Sept. 25, Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd had his answer on a mass gathering permit application from UTOPiAfest Down In The Oaks.
“If I voted on it today, I wouldn’t approve it,” Boyd said to a full courtroom during the regular meeting of the Burnet County Commissioners Court.
That, however, won’t be official until Oct. 9, when, Boyd told the nearly 100 people at the meeting in Burnet, he would have his final answer.
“We need to get past this,” he said about the music festival. “This is disrupting our community quite a bit.”
Boyd spoke on the matter and shared a number of concerns from residents and himself about the festival, which is scheduled for Nov. 1-4 on land on Hidden Ranch Road off CR 200 east of Burnet.
As county sheriff, Boyd said his concerns focused on public safety, such as vehicle access on CR 200 and what effect the festival would have on opening weekend of deer season.
Burnet County Judge James Oakley, who delegated the decision to Boyd, also addressed the permit application and his decision in the process.
“I designated the authority to the sheriff, not because it’s a political hot potato and not because I’m scared of it, at all,” Oakley said. “It’s because it deals with public safety.”
Oakley also reiterated that county officials would be fair in the permit process and make a decision based on state law.
“This is on shaky ground. I don’t want anybody to think this thing is happening,” he said. “If it is denied, it will be for the specific and spelled-out reasons allowed for.”
A mass gathering permit is for an event held outside of a city with more than 2,500 people expected to attend and remain for more than five continuous hours.
The permit may be denied for one of nine reasons, as listed in the state’s statute:
• the application contains false or misleading information or omits required information;
• the promoter’s financial backing is insufficient to ensure that the mass gathering will be conducted in the manner stated in the application;
• the location selected for the mass gathering is inadequate for the purpose for which it will be used;
• the promoter has not made adequate preparations to limit the number of persons attending the mass gathering or to provide adequate supervision for minors attending the mass gathering;
• the promoter does not have assurance that scheduled performers will appear;
• the preparations for the mass gathering do not ensure that minimum standards of sanitation and health will be maintained;
• the preparations for the mass gathering do not ensure that the mass gathering will be conducted in an orderly manner and that the physical safety of persons attending will be protected;
• adequate arrangements for traffic control have not been provided;
• or adequate medical and nursing care will not be available.
During the public hearing within the meeting Sept. 25, 12 people spoke, including Precinct 2 Commissioner Russell Graeter, himself a resident on CR 200.
“I wanted to say I’m with you. I’m beside you,” Graeter told concerned residents. “I’m not here as your commissioner. I’m here as your neighbor. I hope it will work out for all of us. I moved out there to have peace and quiet.”
Lee Winkler, who identified herself as a resident on CR 200, spoke first during the public hearing. Winkler presented the commissioners with a petition of more than 500 signatures of people against the festival.
Local attorney Eddie Shell addressed the commissioners on behalf of a group of landowners who formed a group called United Shady Grove Corridor.
Shell spoke for 19 minutes and began with a story about a case early in his career fighting against a fertilizer plant.
After reminding the judge, sheriff, and commissioners of the 500 or so voters watching their decision, Shell ended with a plea to deny the permit.
“I’m asking you not to let the Utopia people convince you that manure doesn’t stink,” he said.
Scott Davidson, public safety director for UTOPiAfest, who spoke Sept. 19 at a public meeting, was the only representative from the festival in attendance. Davidson did not speak during the public hearing.
A letter previously sent out from organizers has addressed some questions about their plans for the weekend.
Boyd said more documents will be reviewed as his decision nears.
“We don’t do this every day, so we’ve probably been a little clunky,” he said during the meeting. “We’ll be smoother next time.”
Oakley said the permit may or may not be on the commissioners court agenda Oct. 9.
“It’s not a requirement the way I see it,” he said. “Stay tuned. It’s a big job to do to evaluate all the criteria that’s either met or not met.”