It’s a small but significant measure of progress at Lake Berryessa — signs bearing new names for old resorts are on their way in time for summer.
That news was among a host of updates the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shared during a public meeting in Napa on Wednesday. Officials wanted to reassure residents that the lake shore will be open for campers, boaters and tourists when the peak tourism season starts Memorial Day weekend.
Reclamation said it’s in the final stages of finishing an agreement with an interim contractor that will provide day-use and camping at the Spanish Flat and Steele Canyon recreation areas, and boat launching at Steele Canyon.
The contract is with Forever Resorts, the company that currently operates Pleasure Cove. The agreement should start in May and last until the end of the year with options for two one-year extensions, Park Manager Jeff Laird said.
Reclamation is also in the final stages of an agreement to keep Markley Cove open on an interim contract. It had been slated to close in May. Acting Area Manager Drew Lessard said Reclamation is looking to execute that contract at the same time as the Forever Resorts contract.
Lessard said Reclamation believes it can strike a deal with the former contractor at Steele Canyon to prevent the removal of a road and a boat launch ramp at the site. The removals had been scheduled to happen in February, but have been in limbo for the last few months.
If those contracts are completed, that would mean four of the seven resorts at the lake would be open to the public this summer. Reclamation is still working to get a contractor lined up for camping, day-use and boating at the Putah Canyon Recreation Area and camping and day-use at the Oak Shores day-use site.
Laird said the federal agency is working with one potential contractor for Putah Canyon and Oak Shore. If Reclamation can’t reach an agreement, it will offer day-use and boating at Putah Canyon, and day-use at Oak Shores.
“They have to be able to not lose a bunch of money,” Laird said of the company taking over an interim contract. “They’re running their numbers.”
The Berryessa Point and Monticello Shores recreation areas will be closed this summer.
But perhaps one of the most noticeable indicators of the progress being made at the lake is the new resort signs, which will replace signs put up by the former resort contractor, the Pensus Group.
Pensus renamed five of the resorts it was operating, and those came to symbolize residents’ frustration with the company’s inaction in redeveloping the resorts. Reclamation terminated Pensus’ contract in late 2012.
Laird said the new signs have been ordered, and will be installed at the recreation areas’ entrances once delivered. Reclamation is working with Napa County Public Works to get additional roadway signs installed in the areas leading up to the lake, he said.
“It seems like a minor thing, but it’s a major deal for us,” Laird said. “We really heard a lot (from residents). We heard that and really took that into account.”
Laird said Reclamation’s field office at Lake Berryessa was going to be subjected to an agency-wide hiring freeze, implemented as part of federal budget sequestration, but the bureau lobbied for an exemption and won. That means it will be able to hire seasonal rangers and maintenance workers this summer, he said.
The seasonal workers should start working April 29, he said.
“The good news is that our exception request was granted,” Laird said. “We’re really excited about that.”
Sequestration did cause Reclamation to close Oak Shores for day use this winter. Closure will remain in effect until May 19 or until the interim contract is signed.
The bureau had to shutter its hiking and kayaking programs in April and May, but they’ll start up again on June 1. Four environmental education programs that were slated to occur in May have been canceled, and won’t resume until the fall.
Looking into the future, Laird said Reclamation is in the process of getting bathrooms and potable water systems purchased and installed at the recreation areas, but it likely won’t happen until late 2013 or early 2014. It’s doing the same in getting an electrical system up and running there.
In setting up long-term contractors, Lessard said the agency has to perform market analysis and financial feasibility studies to determine what services Reclamation can reasonably expect to be offered, and at what point in the contracts those services will be offered.
Craig Morton, a member of the Lake Berryessa Chamber of Commerce, urged Reclamation not to repeat its past mistakes with the Pensus Group. That company signed a contract for five resorts on the lake’s western shores, and shut them down simultaneously while intending to fully redevelop and reopen them. That redevelopment failed to happen.
“Wiping out the five resorts at the same time was a disaster,” Morton said.
Nancy Tamarisk of the Napa Sierra Club urged the agency to examine its own actions and failures, so as to prevent them from being repeated in the future.
“This was a fiasco over the last few years,” Tamarisk said. “Let’s not be here five years from now doing this again. What went wrong?”