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Surf park looking to avoid wipeout over permitting dispute

Tuesday, April 5, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

A massive facility east of Austin and touted as North America’s first inland surf park is proving to be a gnarly conundrum for Travis County officials.

The central problem is the legal definition of a pool and whether Nland Surf Park’s massive man-made lagoon should be permitted as one. The county says the lagoon is a pool, but the developers disagree.

Attorneys for both sides have been holding closed-door discussions for weeks in order to hammer out a solution to the disagreement. County Attorney David Escamilla and Nland’s representative, Armbrust & Brown attorney Richard Suttle, declined to disclose to the Austin Monitor specific details of those talks, but both men characterized the tone as positive and productive.

Announced last summer, Nland is a venture backed by Doug Coors, a member of the famous family of brewers from Colorado. Coors is partnering with the Spanish firm Wavegarden, and the park will feature cutting-edge technology to produce uniform waves for surfers of different skill levels to ride.

Because the park is located just outside of Austin city limits, its developers would need to obtain a pool permit – if they indeed felt their lagoon required one – from the city’s Health and Human Services Department, which also acts as the permitting authority for the county. A public information request made by the Monitor revealed that no such application has been made.

However, documents on the city’s website filed by the construction firm KBGE reveal some details about plans to keep the lagoon – which will run on a rainwater capture system – clean. “Sanitation will be achieved by using a combination of an ozone dose with a follow-up residual of chlorine,” KBGE’s principal, Chad Kimbell, wrote to city officials in a letter dated June 11, 2014. “The treatment system will be running continuously.”

Commissioner Margaret Gómez, in whose Precinct 4 Nland will be, told the Monitor last week that this is a case in which technology has outpaced regulations. She said the ball is in the Texas Legislature’s court to update existing statutes during its next session. In the meantime, Gómez said, Nland’s fate is up in the air.

“It goes back to what our attorneys may tell us,” said Gómez. “We’ll wait and see what their advice is. I don’t really think (the developers) are trying to be ugly or sneaky or anything like that. It’s just that we just don’t have statutory definitions in place.”

For the time being, the attorneys scored some extra time to negotiate the issue. Last week, Suttle confirmed to the Monitor that a recent test of the park’s wave machine damaged the lagoon’s liner. The necessary repairs, he said, could take weeks, pushing back the park’s grand opening, which had been planned for sometime this spring.

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