Citizens voice opposition to booze at Six Flags venues

FORT WORTH?Beverage alcohol with roller coasters or water slides is a dangerous and inappropriate mix at amusement parks catering to families, a group of North Texans told a public hearing held Oct. 14-15 in Fort Worth.

The 11 residents who spoke against a request by Six Flags to sell alcohol at its Six Flags Over Texas amusement park and Hurricane Harbor water park, both in Arlington, told state Administrative Law Judge Tanya Cooper that public safety and the welfare of children would be jeopardized if the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission approves it.

Roger Hollar, director of Mercy Heart Ministries in Fort Worth, which works with families of inmates and ex-offenders, told the judge that alcohol sales at the parks would be irresponsible. An alcohol-free park “would provide one less place for [alcoholics] to get drunk. We need one less place for these things to happen,” he said.

Hollar, also an associate pastor at Glenview Baptist Church, said it is “quite a paradox” for the alcohol industry to discourage underage drinking and then “to turn around with the gateway drug and put it in their play yard for them.”

Winston Fuller testified that alcohol sales at the parks would risk children’s safety by dulling the senses of adults supervising them, would lead to more heat-related emergencies because of alcohol-induced dehydration, and would create a greater risk of alcohol-related automobile accidents.

Fuller acknowledged the argument that the nearby Ballpark at Arlington sells alcohol, as will the new Dallas Cowboys football stadium. But baseball is a spectator sport, “not a visitor-performance sport” with high-speed rides, Fuller said.

Bill Holt of Arlington said he takes his grandchildren to both parks regularly and opposes alcohol sales at the venues.

“Six Flags and Hurricane Harbor have been genuine assets to our community ? and have brought many visitors to this area,” Holt said. Parents have felt comfortable leaving their older children there for several hours, “and we want that to continue.”

Holt said it is generally accepted that beverage alcohol increases the occurrence of health emergencies, behavior problems and accidents.

Carolyn Mitchell, who described herself as a Six Flags season-pass holder, said she was unaware that alcohol was served at other Six Flags-owned parks until her family visited Fiesta Texas in San Antonio and endured 25 minutes waiting in line for a ride behind two inebriated, foul-mouthed young women.
“We left the place with a different view of Fiesta Texas,” Mitchell said.

Within two miles of both Arlington parks are hundreds of bars and restaurants where adults may drink, Mitchell noted. Also, as a public school teacher she has observed that fake ID’s are abundant among teenagers, she said.

“The safety issue alone would be unspeakable at Hurricane Harbor,” Mitchell said. “I implore Six Flags to remain a truly family environment here in Arlington.”

In December 2007, Six Flags applied to TABC for the license to sell beer, wine and mixed drinks at its Arlington parks, quickly prompting 600 phone calls to TABC, 150 signatures to a petition against the license and a dozen letters of protest.

Six Flags officials claim the effort is in response to customer requests for beer and pledged that such sales would be handled responsibly and guest safety ensured. Despite their intention to introduce alcohol to what is regarded as a family-friendly venue, they counter that the alcohol will be served in specially marked, clear cups in select, well-monitored locations by TABC-certified servers.
Judge Cooper has until mid-December to issue a ruling.

The TABC may be contacted via e-mail at questions@tabc.state.tx.us or by mail at TABC Legal Division, P.O. Box 13127, Austin, TX 78711.

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