At least one Lake Austin party boat company will be able to pick up passengers off of Lake Austin Boulevard this summer, after a reprieve in the legal tussle over the use of a public dock there.
Austin Party Cruises sued the city of Austin and Parks and Recreation Department Director Kimberly McNeeley in January after the parks department declined to grant the company a permit to use the Walsh Boat Landing. It is the only public boat dock on the lake, and city officials said they were halting commercial use of it to reduce strain on the dock as it awaited renovation.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Austin Party Cruises’ parent company, Watertight Endeavors, led to an injunction stopping the city from blocking the dock’s use, but it also resulted in a dismissal of some of Watertight’s constitutional claims. A court dismissed a Watertight appeal on those claims this week after the city relented and issued Austin Party Cruises a six-month permit to operate. The company has resumed picking up passengers at the dock.
“As directed, PARD will comply with the order while the injunction is in effect,” the Parks and Recreation Department said in an emailed statement Friday.
The permit allowance apparently doesn’t extend to other companies. Lake Austin Parties, which has had a permit to use the Walsh Boat Landing in the past for its boat rentals, has instead been picking up passengers from a ramp near Loop 360, said its owner, Nicholas Verver.
“They haven’t given us anything, which is kind of odd if a company that was permitted to operate out of there won an injunction against the city,” Verver said. “I don’t think there’s any written code to enforce, but I’m not using (the dock) because I’ll let the city do its thing and see what happens.”
The remainder of Austin Party Cruises’ original suit is still expected to proceed, said Bill Aleshire, an attorney and former Travis County judge who is representing the boat company.
Austin Party Cruises, which rents large cruise boats for wedding parties, reunions and other events, has used the dock for 22 years to pick up and drop off guests of its customers. In filings, the company stated losing use of the dock would put it out of business.
The city began requiring party boat companies to apply for $500 permits to use the dock in 2016 and continued the policy into 2017. Ten companies received permits. Austin Party Cruises argued in its initial lawsuit that it wasn’t conducting commercial activity in the city park alongside the dock, just off Lake Austin Boulevard, and its clients had as much right to use the dock as any other member of the public.
“You had a parks director grossly exceed her authority by determining no one could operate from Walsh Landing if the boat was rented,” said Aleshire, who has sued Austin over a number of public transparency issues.