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County responds to music festival’s lawsuit

Thursday, October 29, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

Travis County has fired off its first volley in its legal fight against an electronic music and camping festival.

County Attorney David Escamilla put his imprimatur on a motion filed Wednesday in the 98th District Court asking the judge to throw out the lawsuit brought by the organizers of the Euphoria Music & Camping Festival.

In 11 pages, Escamilla and his team of assistant county attorneys put forth a fusillade of legalese to argue that the Commissioners Court and County Judge Sarah Eckhardt have the state-imbued authority to regulate amplified sound at major events and mass gatherings.

Euphoria sued the county last month over revisions the commissioners made in August to the mass-gathering permitting process. Among the most controversial of those revisions was a guideline that sets a default curfew on outdoor amplified music at 11 p.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends.

Euphoria’s organizers applied for a permit under the new rules in August and asked for a variance to keep the music plugged in for an extra hour each night. The Commissioners Court denied that request but granted a conditional permit with the baseline hours.

Euphoria’s organizers argue that the Texas Mass Gatherings Act doesn’t give counties the authority to regulate hours of operation, a contention that county attorneys parried in their motion.

“Contrary to the allegations, the Conditional Permit does not limit the hours of operation but merely allows for the use of amplified sound at certain times,” the motion explains.

As officials have previously revealed to the Austin Monitor, the county is arguing that both the Mass Gatherings Act and the Texas Health and Safety Code give it the “explicit and implied authority” to ensure the “health, safety, and welfare of those affected by the event including those attending an event or residing near an event and to minimize disruption to the community at large.”

In the motion, the county’s attorneys point out that the permit-process revisions were enacted after lengthy consideration, including public input from stakeholders. The most prominent of those stakeholders asking for stronger regulations was Brenton Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Backyard Garden, a large-scale organic farming operation where he lives with his family. The property abuts Carson Creek Ranch, the venue where Euphoria has been held for the past three years.

The Monitor reached out to Euphoria spokesman Chad David Shearer, who said that as of Wednesday evening he had not seen the county’s filing yet. The Monitor sent him a copy but did not receive a response as of Wednesday night.

Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols told the Monitor that the first hearing in this case has been set for Nov. 4.

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