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Airboat Bill Sponsor Wants Veto From Perry

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PARKER COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM) – A State Representative is asking the governor to veto a bill he once sponsored.  Senate Bill 408 would ban airboats on the John Graves Scenic Riverway which runs from Possum Kingdom Lake to Lake Granbury, the section of the Brazos River that runs through Palo Pinto and Parker Counties.

The legislation was written by Senator Craig Estes and sponsored by Representative Jim Keffer.  It is sitting on Governor Rick Perry’s desk awaiting final approval, but after CBS 11 started investigating the bill, Representative Keffer’s office received numerous complains, and the lawmaker pulled his support.

Airboat operators hope Perry takes notice.

Rod Price has operated airboats on the Brazos River for 28 years. He has a lot of fond memories fishing from his boat along with his sons and father-in-law.  “They’re irreplaceable, I can’t imagine not making more memories with them,” he said,  “I can’t imagine my boys not having the right to airboat this river.”

“My boys not being able to do this anymore, I can’t even imagine it, and my dad, 72-years-old, he should get to do this as long as he wants to, as long as he’s able to,” Rod’s wife Carol added, “That’s simple pleasures, absolute simple pleasures in life that should not be taken away.”

Traveling the shallow river requires an airboat, because in some places the water is only inches deep, and the Price’s are afraid they’re boat will stay parked in the garage if Perry doesn’t veto SB 408.

“There’s no criminal, civil, safety or contamination issues that exist involving airboats, and it should not be a bill, much less a law,” Price said. “To me this is nothing more than money in a senator’s pocket.”

Even Republican Representative Jim Keffer has changed his stance on the bill he sponsored.  “We pulled our support and asked the governor to consider vetoing the bill,” he explained, “A bill may be warranted but I think we need to have the studies for the foundation to back it up.”

Senator Estes is standing firm.

In the past two weeks, CBS11 has made numerous requests for an interview with the senator, and even showed up at his office in Austin, but he has yet to respond personally. Instead his office staff sent a statement.  “Airboats can damage habitat, degrade water quality, create a noise nuisance and poise a real danger to fishing and people in canoes and kayaks.” Spokesperson Sam Carlson said in the statement. “The John Graves Waterway is unique and it requires additional environmental protections, and airboats are simply not conducive to this kind of preservation.”

However, on May 31, 2011, Estes office admitted they did not know of any study or research on the potential dangers or damages caused by airboats.

Airboat operators on the Brazos claim Alice Walton, heiress to the Wal-Mart fortune and a landowner along this stretch of the river doesn’t like the noisy watercraft.

According to a Palo Pinto Sheriff’s report, on June 26, 2009, Walton was accused of firing a shotgun at a passing airboat that had several children onboard. She was identified in a photo lineup by three people on the boat, but no charges were ever filed.

CBS 11 contacted Walton by phone, but she declined an interview and wouldn’t answer any questions.  “You shouldn’t have been given this number.” She said over the phone, “It is a private number and I don’t care to do an interview.”

Walton has contributed $120,000 to Senator Estes since 2000, and $237,000 to Rick Perry.  “Texas is fortunate to have her interested in preserving our natural resources for all citizens to enjoy,” Estes office said in a statement on May 31.

But the Prices say if conservation is the reason behind the proposed ban, the state has bigger fish to fry.  They claim the state’s scrutiny needs to be placed on oil and natural gas companies that are allowed to drill along this stretch of river.

The view from the family’s backyard shows the damage left behind from a failed gas well, where a large section of the trees and the natural landscape has been cleared out.  “I’m not against drilling but this is not for oil it’s for natural gas,” Price said, “These sites like this that are basically raping the land and they’re not cleaning up their messes, something needs to be done about that, and that’s what Senator Estes needs to go to work on, not something as simple and pleasurable as an airboat.”

“I don’t want to see drilling taken away,” Carol Price added, “but when they start telling me that airboats are destroying the river, I wanted y’all to see what oil companies are doing to the river.”

For now, the family will continue to fight to keep their tradition of airboating from becoming a criminal offense.

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