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Presidio County To Hold Public Meeting Dedicated to "Mass Gathering" Permits

By Sally Beauvais

Presidio County officials have agreed to hold a public meeting in the near future to discuss local permitting procedures for large-scale events.

The decision comes after months of debate between the county and residents about a controversial festival that may be coming to West Texas.

The hearing — slated to be held sometime in the next four to six weeks — would be dedicated to collecting input from residents about what an application process for “mass gatherings” and large-scale festivals should look like.

Under the Texas Health and Safety Code, a mass gathering is defined as an event that will attract more than 2,500 people, or more than 500 people if 51% or more of those in attendance may be under 21 years old and alcoholic beverages are expected to be consumed.

The application would include requirements like plans for safety, sanitation and emergency response. As it stands, Presidio County does not have a formal permitting process in place.

County officials first began discussing the need for one earlier this year, when Austin-based C3 Presents proposed a festival of 5 to 6 thousand people on a ranch outside of Marfa.

Since then, the officials have attended several closed meetings with representatives of the company, which has stirred up mistrust among a group of residents who say the county is giving C3 more listening time than their own constituents.

At a heated commissioners meeting in August, County Judge Cinderela Guevara informed those in attendance that a public hearing will theoretically be included in the permitting process -- but not until after the county finalizes it, and receives an application from an interested party.

Marfa resident Shelley Bernstein implored Judge Guevara, "how can citizens participate before that stage, so that we can bring to you our concerns as you are looking at this permit process and having discussions with C3?"

Bernstein and a group of other residents had been trying to form an officially-recognized citizens advisory committee to assist the commissioners in the process of drafting an application — something that county officials had agreed would be helpful.

But questions surfaced about possible legal ramifications for the county, should they give a group of non-elected citizens more voice than the general public.

So, at a meeting of the commissioners on Wednesday of this week, Bernstein presented a printed proposal for the upcoming public hearing, which commissioners eventually agreed to.

Judge Guevara expressed frustration that residents seem primarily concerned with this one event, while the county is trying to come up with an application suitable to all potential future mass gatherings.

She also indicated that she has been receiving weekly phone calls from representatives of C3, asking if the permitting process is complete.

Sally Beauvais is a reporter at Marfa Public Radio.