The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will hold a series of meetings next month devoted to the future of public recreation at Lake Berryessa, and may divulge details about the status of its embattled contractor, the Pensus Group, which is in charge of five of the lake’s seven resorts.
On Dec. 10, Don Glaser, the director of the bureau’s mid-Pacific region, which includes California, will be at the Berryessa Senior Center from 6 to 8 p.m. to discuss his decision on the Pensus contract. He’ll repeat his public presentation on Dec. 11 at the same hours at Napa Valley College’s Little Theater, then on Dec. 12 in Winters.
The bureau has moved to terminate Pensus’ management contract due to the company’s failure to complete redevelopment of the resorts, which the Arizona-based company pledged to do when it signed the contract in 2010.
The bureau has alleged that after completing some preliminary planning, Pensus stopped working on the resorts, leading it to pursue contract termination earlier this year.
The bureau and Pensus went through mediation over the summer, but failed to reach an agreement. Glaser must decide to continue the contract, end it, or modify it so Pensus would retain control of some, but not all, of its resorts.
Bureau spokesman Louis Moore said the meetings could feature an announcement of Glaser’s decision, but only if he’s notified Pensus representatives beforehand. Moore wasn’t sure Monday if Glaser had made his decision.
“The primary point for the meeting is for Mr. Glaser to discuss with the audience about how he’s arrived at his decision,” Moore said. “If he’s already spoken to Pensus, then he’s able to share more information with his audience.”
Moore said Glaser has reviewed the contract and input from staff carefully, and wants to ensure that his decision will be technically and legally defensible.
“He just wants to do it as correctly and as easily as possible,” Moore said.
Moore said the bureau hopes the meetings will result in a “definite, positive step for looking at the future.”
“That requires feedback,” he said.
But patience is wearing thin for some business owners at the lake who rely on a steady stream of tourists to stay afloat financially.
If the bureau moves to terminate Pensus’ contract, it could lead to more delays in opening the resorts to the public and fewer tourists at the lake. That could devastate some business owners already struggling to survive, said Marcia Ritz, who owns the Spanish Flat Country Store & Deli.
Ritz, a member of the Lake Berryessa Chamber of Commerce for five years, said she’s seen the chamber’s ranks dwindle as businesses shuttered due to the delays and the lake’s economy souring.
“We’re just barely holding on,” Ritz said Monday. “There’s no people coming through right now. Everybody up here — we all need help.”
Ritz said that people go to the resorts, see the lack of running water, outhouses, and inadequate or nonexistent facilities, and come to her store to complain before promising to never come back. She said she’s owned the store for five years, and has seen her business do progressively worse each year.
“Those people that go to the resorts, they come down to the store and just complain,” Ritz said. “They say they’ll never be back. Something has to happen. They have to do something to bring people back. I want something to happen so that we can have a breath of fresh air. If it continues like this, nobody’s going to be able to survive up here.”
Ritz expressed frustration at the bureau’s tight lips on what will happen with the Pensus contract. During mediation, representatives cited a confidentiality requirement when they declined to divulge details. Ritz said there’s not much business owners can do, aside from speaking up and hope the bureau listens.
“All we can do is wait,” Ritz said. “We are certainly hoping for the best. Hopefully they’ll give some information on the tenth.”
Jean Howell, owner of the Capell Valley Boat & RV Storage and a member of the lake’s Chamber of Commerce, echoed Ritz’s frustration.
“They’ve had meetings, and they’ve had meetings, and they’ve had meetings,” Howell said. “All they’ve done is talk.”
Howell said the Bureau of Reclamation should cede control of the lake’s recreation to the Bureau of Land Management, which she said is better prepared to manage recreational activities.
“I don’t think we’re going to get anything settled until we get someone in there who’s knowledgeable about resorts,” Howell said.
Howell was born and raised at the lake, and said she’s owned her business since 1989. She said she’s been doing OK, but acknowledged that her business has been off in recent years.
“It’s going to be a long time coming back,” Howell said.