Airboats Could Soon Be Illegal On Brazos River

By Melissa Newton, CBS 11 News

WAXAHACHIE (CBSDFW.COM) – Airboat operators along a stretch of the Brazos River believe it will soon be illegal to traverse portions of it in their shallow-water machines because of one wealthy woman’s influence.

The State Legislature is trying to ban airboats from the John Graves Scenic Riverway, a stretch of the Brazos River that spans from Possum Kingdom Lake to Lake Granbury.

The boaters believe one wealthy woman is behind it all.

Larry Dowthitt said he’s worked hard all of his life.

“To get to where I’m at so I can enjoy this river and fish,” the retired Parker County resident said.

He does that from the captain’s chair of his airboat, a type of watercraft he has operated since 1985.

“An airboat is designed specifically for shallow water purposes,” he said, ”It’s perfect for the Brazos. In order to get to where the fishing is good from right here, you either have to pull a John Boat or you need an airboat.”

Dowthitt may not be able to do that anymore. Senate Bill 408, which has already passed the State House and Senate and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature, would ban airboats from the section of the Brazos River that runs through Parker and Palo Pinto Counties.

“I don’t really know what the goal is on this thing,” said Donald Shirley, who bought his first airboat in the 1960s. “It’s something I never ever dreamed could happen, I didn’t think anybody could do that.”

Airboat operators on the Brazos said the proposed legislation is unfair and takes rights away from Texas citizens.

State Sen. Craig Estes (R – Witchita Falls) authored the bill.

A representative from his office said there has been no formal study showing airboats are harmful to the river’s natural habitat but called them a noise nuisance and a threat to public safety.

“There are many bans on motorized watercraft and airboats in Texas. For example, Texas Parks & Wildlife prohibits airboats in the 51 Wildlife Management Areas in coastal areas to protect habitat and prevent noise nuisance,” said Ren Nance, Committee Director in State Senator Craig Estes’ Office. “Many River Authorities ban personal watercraft on lakes as necessary to protect public safety.”

Mike Cox of the Texas Parks and Wildlife also said the department knows of no study showing airboats damage the Brazos.

“We’re not endangering any wildlife, we’re in the water, the wildlife is on the bank,” Shirley said, “We don’t pollute the river, any drop of oil or gas, it doesn’t go in the water, it goes in the bottom of the boat.”

The ban would only apply to a section of the Brazos where fishermen said a wealthy landowner wants airboats off the river.

“If they’re a problem on this river, they’re a problem on every river in the State of Texas,” Dowthitt said. “As far as these being dangerous, they’re as dangerous as you want to make it, so is a car.”

The organization ‘Friends of the Brazos’ confirms the landowner, Alice Walton, an heiress to the Wal-Mart fortune, asked them to support a ban on airboats. She did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the Texas Ethics Commission, since 2000, Walton has contributed $120,000 to Craig Estes and $237,000 to Governor Rick Perry.

“As with all legislation that makes it to his desk, the governor will thoughtfully review all bills in their final form and make a decision,” said Lucy Nashed, Deputy Press Secretary for the governor.

“I’m thinking that he’s done us wrong if he signs that bill,” Shirley said, “He’s sold out the poor people, and the rich lady’s bought us out.”

“This is a way of life for people, we love to fish, this is just what we’ve done all of our lives,” Dowthitt said, “Sometimes I wonder if this is still America.”

When asked if Walton’s contributions affected the legislation, Estes’ office said she is environmentally minded, which is why she supports it.

“Ms. Walton supports this bill,” Nance said, “but she is first most a conservationist and Texas is fortunate to have her interested in preserving our natural resources for all citizens to enjoy.”


One Comment

  1. Ken Williams says:

    Cronyism politics at its finest ! ! ! This is what all Americans can expect if Gov. Goodhair gets elected to the Whitehouse.

  2. Letha says:

    She needs to go back where she came from.This isn’t the first thing she has bought us out of.She is going to find out that money she is paying off people with is going to come back and bite her where the sun don’t shine.

  3. KE5UQW says:

    They all need to come take a ride on an air boat them selves and see these boats do not hurt ANYTHING. Noise? Well what about the surfing wakes those ski boats have along with the big speakers and loud music blaring down the river? And like he said, all the oil, fuel, what ever goes in the boat unlike ALL other water crafts with engines. Their exhausts are under water. And air boat operators assist a lot of stranded kayaks and canoes as well. When I am on out on the air boat and see people, I slow way down for one to quieten the boat out of respect and to make sure they don’t wave a hand for help. This is common air boat curtsey that we all use. Just like a motorcycle rider on the highway waves at each other no matter if you knew them or not. Softey, it’s like any other thing down to even a simple kids bike. Anyone can get hurt on anything but we don’t ban this stuff. Far as politics and money? We all know that’s how they work. Correct me if I am wrong, these kind of bills are suppose to go to the house first then to the senate. But this is SB 408 meaning SB for Senate bill was sneaked in by Mr. Estes. That is just how it looks. Take a look for yourself on there is a vide straight from the capitols web site that shows that Estes didn’t even give anyone a chance to oppose this bill. front page.

  4. Betsy says:

    Without a study showing environmental damage to the river, airboats should be allowed to continue using the waterway. I would vote against any official who thought this was fair play in the state of Texas.

  5. ray says:

    This certainly an underhanded bill being shoved under the radar of citizens of this great state..Where is proof of damage from airboats? Why weas this not heard out ibn three day rules by law?? Very underhanded I would say!! Now we have the same trash crammed down our throats as what Washington is doing to us? If it starts on this part of Brazos where next? Who/what is next?? Who has the most money? Who is for sale to the highest bidder? This is what is happening from top to bottom in OUR COUNTRY!! I am ashamed…

  6. Retired Fisherman Les says:

    Airboats dominate the river so no one else can fish, swim, kayak, canoe. The rivers natural bends and sandbars keep airboaters from seeing ahead and at the speeds they travel anyone fishing or swimming are in danger of being run over. All us quiet kayakers, fishermen, canoers, hoseback riders, swimmers have a right to be in the river too. I have watched an airboat do wheelies in the river stirring up all the sediment and fish in the river spewing smoke from the engine into the air. Why shouldn’t others be allowed to enjoy the beautiful Brazos in its natural state without fearing a speeding airboat. Gov Perry would be doing something right to sign this legislation protecting the Brazos and all people including retirees who have worked their entire life to enjoy a peaceful weekend on the Brazos.

    1. rc says:

      She must have bought you off to or you must be for that stupid man. He has done nothing for the people, the schools or anything else for Texas other than take money and put it in his pockets. Wake up and look what he has done to the people.

  7. Cowley says:

    Passing this bill without input or facts is bad enough. Most troubling is the fact that those in power felt that they should bypass the normal process to allow comments from those that elected them.

  8. tom says:

    Not everyone will get to see those views, the air boat is the only vehicle to carry the seniors, the handicapped, the disabled veterans up and down the John Graves Scenic River-way. Sorry just the young people in tubes and all other boats that will not carry this group.

  9. Poor Folks on the Brazos says:

    Airboats on the river are like motorcyclists driving up and down the street. Fun to ride, but not fun to listen to especially if you are trying to get away from it all and enjoy some peace and quiet. A beautiful river like the Brazos is not the place for airboats or anything else with that big an engine. Kayaks, Canoes and trolling motors are safe and preserve the natural beauty and quiet..

  10. mike shirejian says:

    This does not bode well for the republican party…is this really a bill they want to get behind..fat cats picking on little people..I mean this is an image we want to overcome…come on guys wake up…we have an election to win.

  11. We all love the river! This bill will greatly limit everyones access to the river. Only 40 miles avaiable to paddlers. This bill will make my husbands income illegal. He specializes in taking out wheelchair bound, cancer survivors, and older people who cannot drag their boats through the shallows or fight the wind. Don’t let a few rude boaters take away our access to public waterway. We avoid the paddlers, slowing down and skirting around…and getting as far away from “your” area asap. My husband has assisted many paddlers in need…and we always pick up the party kids trash. We own three kayaks also…let us learn to share! TCEQ may decide to ban all motorized boats…beware.

  12. Derrick says:

    Senator Estes,

    If you are reading this, I was fishing yesterday. Two jet skis on the lake I was fishing on was loud and their exhausts underwater was blowing a lot of 2 cycle smoke underwater scaring my fish away. How much would it cost me to get you to sneak a bill up through the senate to ban those from the lake? We could call it SB PWC 408 They are a nuisance to me. Maybe Alice would help pay for your next campaign. Heck shes worth over 31 billion less what she is giving you.

    Innovative Technology Administration Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that there were 685 deaths resulting from watercraft accidents. In addition, they report approximately 3,600 injuries resulting from close to 5,200 personal watercraft accidents, with an estimated 54 million dollars spent in property damage claims.

    A watercraft is an all-encompassing term that refers to a variety of vessels that float on the water. There are various types of vessels that are commonly used by boaters and water sports enthusiasts every day. Watercraft vehicles include, among other personal water vehicles:

    • Cruising or Small Sailboats (seats several people, powered by sails)
    • Fishing Boats (Limited seating, powered by engine)
    • Cruising Boats (Small crews, powered by engine or sail)
    • Yachts (Cabin seating, powered by engine, plumbing, over 25 feet in length)
    • Ski Boats (Various seating; towboats with powerful engines)
    • Jet Ski (recreational. motorcycle-like power, used for fast transport)
    • Sea-Doos (recreational, motorcycle -like powered water craft)
    • Wave-runner (recreational, motorcycle -like powered water craft)

    Personal watercraft, jet-ski wrecks, and wave runner crashes can cause significant and serious injuries.

    The boating accidents can result in serious and deadly boating accident injuries. The most common reasons for boat accidents include the following:

    • Boating under the influence of alcohol
    • Careless or reckless operation of the boating vehicle
    • The boat operator not paying attention
    • Operator inexperience
    • Careless passenger behavior

    Lets also add automobiles of all kinds.

    Since air boats aren’t a part of these studies, we can assume air boats are safer since they don’t have enough accident’s to even make it on this study, By getting rid of the boats that are having all of these accidents could be removed and save 685 deaths and 3600 injuries, that would eliminate the other boaters from complaining too. In 2009 I believe a teenager drowned in Eagle Mountain from a canoe tipping over. He was a high school kid on the swim team. We should ban that too.

    My point is every watercraft is dangerous. With or without a motor. They are a noisy to some level. But hey, what ever breads your pocket right?

  13. honest miner says:

    These would not be the first Texas businesses that have been killed by the lobbying dollars of Ms. Walton. A few years ago, when a renegade rock removal company allowed sandy sediment to run into the Brazos River (violating many existing laws), Ms. Walton hired a troupe of expensive lobbyists and drafted legislation which was passed into law, effectively shutting down all sand mining companies anywhere near the Brazos river, even honest ones which have never allowed sediment into the river. As soon as the existing sand mining footprints are depleted, honest workers may find themselves out of a job because it is no longer feasible to get sand for concrete and other purposes, anywhere near the Brazos. (Keep in mind that you can only find sand near rivers, because that is where mother nature places it.) In Texas, we usually do a good job of balancing environmental concerns with recovery of our valuable natural resources. But Ms. Walton’s lobbying dollars have bypassed that balancing process. Her well-meaing yet self-centered efforts are hurting Texas, and have served no meaningful benfit to the enviornment (unless you measure the environment by Ms. Walton’s tender sensibilities, rather than environmental science). Her megabucks have given her a megaphone which is more deafening and offensive than the airboats on the Brazos. P.S. — I own a canoe and a kayak and have traveled the Brazos and enjoyed its beauty, as well.

  14. Robert Bagwell says:

    These very same airboats you soeak of were called upon yesterday by TX Game Wardens to help look for a missing kayaker on the Brazos below Whitney dam !
    The man was found deceased and loaded into a private AIRBOAT.
    The Brazos River Air Boaters support the TXGWA and all LEO’s on the water , we try our best to get along and educate.
    Prayer to the family of the missing man from Hearne.
    Bob Bagwell
    BRAB / Texas Air Boat Association

    1. KE5UQW says:

      Sure did. If it wasn’t for air boats and experience people who know the river well on top of that the outcome could have been different. Still would have found them at some point hopefully but since an airboat and a group of air boats are legally able to run up the river made this possible.

  15. upchkn says:

    It goes to show…It’s not what you know, but WHO you know. Money always trumps common sense and fairness.

  16. Jay Sprayberry says:

    I am one of the airboaters that SB 408 directly effects. I know that my BRAB (Brazos River Airboaters) family are the most courteous folks on the river and are also stewards of it. Our members have assisted law enforcement and search and rescue operations, participated in river clean ups and have sought to educate the public about the capabilities of airboats on the river.

  17. Gail says:

    The idea that airboats are environmentally friendly is ridiculous. Airboaters everywhere have the same sad stories of how their rights are being taken away. They should never have been aloud to run as loud as they are in the first place. Everyone has the right to peace and quiet which is impossible if you are anywhere close to even one airboat. Read the bill 3 days, listen to the arguments, then ban them.

  18. lee says:

    Perhaps all watercraft should be banned from all the waters in Texas to suit the bunny huggers. When and where does it end? What’s that old saying, Give me Liberty or Give me Death! Our legislature is so busy trying to take away our freedoms that they aren’t busy enough working to make America the great country that it deserves to be and once was. Instead greed runs our politicians not right triumping over wrong. AIr boats belong on the rivers along with the conoes and kayaks, right beside the john boats and tubers. There are ways for all of us to get along.

  19. Eddie Garcia says:

    is the opposite of pro is con, Then whats the opposite of progress?
    the rich get richer and broke get broker. although i dont own a airboat i make my living on the water as a guide and commercial fisherman. so i know the impact it can have on the fishermans life if they pass this. An airboat is less of a threat to the enviroment and wildlife than an outboard due to the fact any oil and gas leak on an outboard goes straight in the water?? Think about that.
    Im am against it 100%
    maybe she should take some of that money she throwing around and buy herself an airboat and a fishing pole lol

  20. Troll Slayer says:

    If Ms. Walton is so concerned about the beauty of Texas then she should close some of the trashy Wal-Mart stores that have become a blight on our landscape.

  21. Nick Reyes says:

    We need to cleanup the river and let the public enjoy it in any form from foot to horesback but no Party boats or 4 wheelers. The Air Boats help patrol and give access to some people thay could not access the river any other way.This is a Natural State not a state full of laws that take our rights away. People that live within a mile of the river bank should decide what goes on not just a few wealthy people. They could inforce a speed limit and a noise level for sound, but look before you force a law down our throat. I live a block from the river and ride my horses up and down the banks of it keep it free.

  22. Texas Two Guns says:

    Ms. Walton a conservationist, hardly. Try preservationist. Look it up, there is a huge difference. Taking away rights of others so that a select few can be happy is downright ludicrous. Airboaters should and are working to find ways to be quieter and less obtrusive, but to slip laws in without representation is appalling.

    1. KE5UQW says:

      We are always doing that. When passing others we lift our throttle and move away far as we can and even make sure the wind from the boat is not directed to anyone or anything.

  23. Wendy the Soggy Bottom girl says:

    I understand both sides of the arguement, BUT!!! I am NOT for taking away anyones ( class) rights to enjoy the outdoors especially being it is PUBLIC. It belongs to the people of Texas. IF there needs to be some regulation or a “speed limit” this would better serve all the people of Texas. Everyone would still have the FREEDOM and right to enjoy our states PUBLIC waterways while it would also serve to limit the noise pollution. Can’t ya’ll legislators come up with something better to please all instead of one BIG FAT CAT? Find a House Rep and have this bill rewritten for the next session, but gotta get past Estes on the Senate committee side.

  24. myronja says:

    Airboats are helpful in many ways search and rescue, floods, trash clean up on shallow rivers, crab trap clean up on the bays from crabbers , grass planting on the edge of the bays this is just a few i could go on. Thanks to the BRAB crew for the AIRBOAT search and rescue on the John Graves Scenic Riverway for the aid in finding the missing kayaker. Authorities would have been walking up and down the river if it were not for the airboats. Prayers are sent to the family.

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