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Feds make official announcement — Napa to oversee Berryessa resort redevelopment
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Feds make official announcement — Napa to oversee Berryessa resort redevelopment

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Lake Berryessa

Lake Berryessa as seen from near the Steele Canyon Recreation area.

Napa County is at long last officially assured of becoming the Lake Berryessa resort revitalization czar.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced on Thursday it has executed a 55-year agreement with the county allowing the county to oversee resort renovations starting Nov. 1. The county Board of Supervisors approved the 137-page agreement on March 17.

Thursday’s announcement qualified as anticlimactic. There wasn’t any suspense after March 17 that the county would take over, given the Bureau of Reclamation had already approved the deal. All that remained was for the agency to sign the agreement and finish the bureaucratic steps.

“I think today is a good win-win for both of us,” Drew Lessard of the Bureau of Reclamation told supervisors on March 17.

But only on Thursday came the Bureau of Reclamation’s press release announcing the partnership.

Next, Napa County will attempt what the Bureau of Reclamation over the past decade has failed to accomplish — finding concessionaires to redevelop Spanish Flat, Steele Canyon and Monticello Shores into full-fledged resorts with marinas, stores and other draws.

Supervisors have said the county can be nimbler than the Bureau of Reclamation in finding concessionaires. They tried for about three years to strike a deal with the federal agency for the chance to prove it.

County officials previously talked of identifying or being close to identifying concessionaires by November, when the management agreement begins. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the shutdown of much of the economy.

On Thursday, County Executive Officer Minh Tran said the county is still “seriously considering” moving forward as planned. The Board of Supervisors could decide in August.

“We hate to lose the momentum,” he said.

Attempts to renovate Spanish Flat, Steele Canyon and Monticello Shores will come first. The county could later take over management of Berryessa Point and Putah Canyon.

In the meantime, the Bureau of Reclamation will seek a concessionaire to operate Putah Canyon for 10 years in less grand fashion. The request for proposals is to run a campground and boat launch.

Markley Cove and Pleasant Cove resorts – which have marinas, stores and other amenities—are operated under contract with the Bureau of Reclamation. Napa County could take over management in 2030.

If the county cannot find concessionaires, it can opt out of the agreement.

Napa County has managed Berryessa resorts before. It signed a 50-year contract with the Bureau of Reclamation in 1958, shortly after Monticello Dam created the reservoir, and oversaw development of the original seven resorts.

The federal government wasn’t satisfied with the results, particular the allowance of about 1,700 mobile homes at the resorts. County officials said the mobile homes brought in steady income that made the resorts financially feasible for the private-sector concessionaires.

In 1974, the Board of Supervisors tired of resort controversies and canceled the management contract. The Bureau of Reclamation took over.

In 2006, with the expiration of the original concessionaire contracts approaching, the Bureau of Reclamation adopted a plan for resort revitalization. This plan included removing the mobile homes.

That resulted in the Bureau of Reclamation securing federal stimulus money in 2009 to raze Spanish Flat, Steele Canyon, Monticello Shores, Putah Canyon and Berryessa Point. Marinas, boat launches and other infrastructure was removed, leaving bare ground awaiting rebirth.

The Bureau of Reclamation has struggled making that rebirth happen. A recent agency report estimates lake visitation at 500,000 annually. This compares to an estimated 1.5 million in the resorts’ glory days.

Now, Napa County will try to turn things around.

Meanwhile, several Lake Berryessa resorts are open for visitors this summer. Markley Cove and Pleasure Cove offer marinas and other features. Spanish Flat, Steele Canyon and Putah Canyon operate under interim contracts in stripped-down fashion with camping.

You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or beberling@napanews.com.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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