Utopiafest, Burnet County residents quarrel over pending permit

Lew Cohn/Burnet Bulletin
Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd spoke Sept. 25 during a public hearing on the Utopiafest. The lawman is scheduled in October to decide the fate of the festival's mass gathering permit.

 

 

 

 

By Lew K. Cohn
Burnet Bulletin •

Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd said Tuesday, Sept. 25, if he had to make a decision that day, he would not approve a mass gathering permit for Utopiafest Down in the Oaks at this time due to concerns about public safety.

Boyd's comments came during a morning public hearing on the festival's permit request at the Burnet County Courthouse and remain consistent with earlier statements he made to festival organizers and concerned residents last week.

“Not much has changed at this time, but I am still concerned about the road leading into the event and the fact there is no other way in or out of the festival site,” Boyd said. “I am concerned that if something were to happen in the event and everyone was rushing to get out, I and my people wouldn't be able to get in.

“It will also be the opening weekend of deer season (the festival is slated for Nov. 2-4) and I am hearing stories about how this is affecting a lot of leases and a lot of people are losing money because of this. We are going to look at everything and we are going to make the right decision based on the law.”

As the county's director for public safety, Boyd has been designated by County Judge James Oakley to determine whether Utopiafest should receive a mass gathering permit. Boyd is expected to make his decision on or before Oct. 9 and County Judge James Oakley said while the county might hold another hearing to get public comment on that date, they have already “met all statutory requirements” by holding the Sept. 25 hearing.

At a public meeting at the Burnet County AgriLife Extension building on Wednesday, Sept. 19, Utopiafest founder Travis Sutherland told more than 100 concerned Burnet County residents his festival is about “family, connection and community.”

However, many of those in attendance at the Sept. 19 meeting voiced their displeasure with organizers’ failure to notify them about the venue change to property off Shady Grove Road (County Road 200), as one local attorney even accused them of violating state law by promoting the now 10-year-old festival without a mass gathering permit.

“A person may not promote a mass gathering without a permit issued and is there a permit issued at this time?” attorney Eddie Shell asked. “It is a criminal offense, a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. The definition of promote is merely that, promoting an event and there have been posters, websites and other literature which touts you are hoping for as many as 6,000 people . . .

Read more on this story in the Wednesday, Sept. 26 issue of The Burnet Bulletin.

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