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River outfitters plan ahead as wait to reopen continues

New Braunfels tubing businesses are pledging strict health and safety measures if Gov. Abbott allows them to reopen.

NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas — A state representative is making a splash, hoping his efforts will help tubing outfitters closed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June.

New Braunfels businesses are pledging strict health and safety measures if given the green light to reopen. 

Ten river outfitters within New Braunfels city limits have agreed on a detailed health and safety plan, in hopes they can salvage some of tubing season.

State Representative Kyle Biedermann (Texas-District 73) sent the plan to New Braunfels officials, hoping city leadership could find a solution.

“The financial impact is very important. The health and safety impact is even more,” Biedermann said. “It's a free-for-all. People are showing up at the river, getting on how they can. (There is) no regulation, no education of the risks and it's a bad situation. It shouldn't be this way, it doesn't have to be this way and that's why I've gotten involved.”

The plan includes capping tubers to 500 per outfitter, enforces one float trip per guest and requires masks. Enforcing social distancing on shuttles and sanitizing the buses between trips would also be priorities.

“We want to take control of the situation and stay in compliance with the governor's laws, especially when water parks and other businesses that are potentially less safe are open,” Biedermann said. 

In a statement issued by Mayor Rusty Brockman, he explained how the city has been in communication with the governor’s office and asked for clarification. The city is also working with outfitters to have a plan in place, ready to go once the governor lifts restrictions. 

The main holdup seems to be due to coronavirus case trends in the community.

“Our concern right now is that our local health authority officials are expressing their apprehension with tubing on the rivers and the crowds, no matter the size. We have been meeting with the health authority on this issue for several weeks and monitoring local COVID health metrics," Brockman said. "We have been told by the governor’s representative that our local health authority must approve of the plan before the governor’s office would consider reopening outfitters.”

The mayor says a member of Attorney General Ken Paxton's office has confirmed the city cannot enact plans in conflict with Abbott's ongoing order.

Abbott explicitly called for rafting and tubing businesses to close in an executive order issued June 26th.

“Also, our concern is our ability to enforce social distancing on, and getting out of, the river,” Brockman said. “Regulating social distancing through the outfitters and entering the river is one aspect. However, keeping tubers distanced on the river is challenging. Keeping tubers distanced while getting out of the river is impossible without intense assistance of our parks and public safety personnel. However, doing so puts those personnel at a higher risk of being infected themselves. We cannot responsibly place an undue risk of contracting COVID on our police, fire and parks personnel.”

With tubing a seasonal business, Biedermann hopes a solution can be reached soon, to help keep the outfitters, and their employees,  afloat.

“It's now or never for these tubing outfitters,” said Biedermann. “It is just unfair that water parks can be open and yet these tubing outfitters cannot.”

The plan outfitters signed off on reads:

June 29, 2020

Inside the City limits of New Braunfels: 

Each outfitter, as well as the City river booths, would have 500 specific colored wristbands per weekend day. One wristband allocated per person which will be the limit per outfitter per that day. Each outfitter will have an additional 10 (color specific) complimentary bands that can be used for residents WITH a resident card.' 

  • Usually we see anywhere from 8,000-13,000 people per day on a 4th of July weekend. 
  • There are 12 outfitters (including City of New Braunfels) = 6,000 tubers at most would come through per day; some outfitters have never put out 500 in a day while others have exceeded that number but all agree to manage what they can handle without exceeding the 500. 
  • No personal tubes allowed through any outfitter on the Comal River. All will be outfitter branded. Personal tubes are only allowed at City river booths. This will help distinguish between customers and if there are any issues it can be easily traced back to a specific company. 
  • No trades or sale of wristbands between outfitters or the city. 
  • The 500 wristbands should be spread out throughout the day- set up reservations/ tell people when they pay what their "entry float time" will be. The City would do this as well, so they will have float time "tickets" and encourage guests to wait in Prince Solms Park or their cars, where they can social distance. We will discourage any lines. 
  • One trip per person/no refloats. Outfitters have set up a rotation of employees that will be at the exit to cut off the RMF wristbands to prevent an outfitter tuber from walking back to the park for a second float. 
  • Everyone will put the same graphics/information on their webpage AND social media. The CVB is creating something to copy and paste.

Shuttles: 

  • Drivers will wear a mask . All shuttles will have dedicated seating so no customers can sit within 6' of each other 
  • Customers will fill the back of the vehicle up first so customers are not having to walk by each other 
  • Masks should be worn on shuttles- sell masks/provide masks, as long as customers have them 
  • Drivers are responsible for sanitizing their vehicle after each use or shuttle

To further space people out: 

  • 444/NB Toobs/ Tejas Tubos will drop off at Texas Tubes and enter river there 
  • Comal Tubes will drop off at LRT 
  • Felger's/Rockin R/Corner Tubes will drop off at Prince Solms Park 
  • Landa Falls will use their own entrance-insurance will not allow them to have other outfitters drop off there 

Rockin R River Rides, Texas Tubes, Corner Tubes, Landa Falls, Comal Tubes, Float in, Felgers, Landa River Trips, NB Tubes and Tejas Tubes all signed off on the plan. 444 Tubes indicated they would not open and the City of New Braunfels did not sign the policy.

Mayor Rusty Brockman's full response to the issues brought up by Rep. Biedermann reads:

  • The City has been working in conjunction with the outfitters on a safety plan for several weeks now. Since the City is responsible for enforcement, we have been working together on a plan that can be ready to go when the Governor reopens these businesses."
  • We have been in contact with a representative for the Governor’s strike force. They have provided clarification on the Governor’s orders, which we are following and have been since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • In addition, the City contacted the State Disaster Counsel, a division of the Attorney General’s Office who provides legal counsel to political subdivisions during a declared disaster. The Disaster Counsel has confirmed that the City has no authority to enact plans or take action in conflict with the Governor’s orders as suggested by the letter from Representative Biedermann. The City of New Braunfels intends to continue following the directives of the Governor.
  • Our concern right now is that our local health authority officials are expressing their apprehension with tubing on the rivers and the crowds, no matter the size. We have been meeting with the health authority on this issue for several weeks and monitoring local COVID health metrics. We have been told by the Governor’s representative that our local health authority must approve of the plan before the Governor’s office would consider reopening outfitters.
  • Also, our concern is our ability to enforce social distancing on, and getting out of, the river. Regulating social distancing through the outfitters and entering the river is one aspect, however, keeping tubers distanced on the river is challenging. Keeping tubers distanced while getting out of the river is impossible without intense assistance of our parks and public safety personnel. However, doing so puts those personnel at a higher risk of being infected themselves. We cannot responsibly place an undue risk of contracting COVID on our police, fire and parks personnel.
  • It should also be noted that the City is unaware of any trespassing issues. The City cannot control or regulate people getting on these state-owned waterways through private property.
  • It is the Mayor and city official’s role to protect the health, safety and welfare of all the citizens of New Braunfels. We are in a public health crisis, which must be the primary consideration at this time. The Mayor and City Council must listen to the advice of local health officials, along with the mandates of the Governor.
  • As we have [said] since the beginning, the City intends to follow the Governor’s orders and the health protocols issued by State officials. We have put together two advisory groups: The Mayor’s Advisory Group to Reopen New Braunfels and the Mayor’s River Advisory Committee to help guide the Mayor in decision-making during this pandemic. These groups have been meeting regularly to discuss the issues and attempt to mitigate the negative impacts.
  • Furthermore, the City has enacted several programs to assist the business community during this time, all of which the outfitters and bars are eligible for:
  1. The City created a grant program to fund downtown businesses’ e-commerce platforms in order generate revenues through online sales.
  2. The City and NBEDC created a Small Business Recovery Grant program to provide funding to New Braunfels’ small businesses to cover economic damages suffered as a direct result from COVID.
  3. The NBEDC provided funding for additional staffing assistance to the Small Business Development Center to help local small businesses.