What role Napa County might play in a long-awaited Lake Berryessa resort renaissance – if any – could finally be known by year’s end.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation launched the redevelopment effort on federal land a decade ago, only to see it stall. The agency tore down five of seven resorts, but had difficulty finding companies to build and operate new ones.
In June 2016, agency turned to the county as a possible resort manager that could work more freely with the private sector. Sealing a deal has taken longer than originally predicted.
In February, county officials said they expected to bring a managing partner agreement to the Board of Supervisors in spring. But while that didn’t happened, county officials say negotiations are not dead.
“I think it’s in the interest of all parties to reach some decision by the end of the year,” Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan said on Friday.
Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza agreed.
“I don’t see this going beyond this year,” Pedroza said. “We’ve been at it for quite some time. I’m interested in having this end in a very positive outcome.”
Meanwhile, the wait for an agreement is making some people uneasy. The Lake Berryessa News asked readers to send letters to a number of federal elected and appointed officials expressing concern that the Bureau is ignoring the needs of the Berryessa community.
“I would be a fool not to worry about it,” said Peter Kilkus, editor of the paper and president of the Lake Berryessa Chamber of Commerce.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, sent an Aug. 7 letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke urging that the Bureau of Reclamation reach a deal with Napa County. He wrote that the Bureau appeared “unwilling or unable” to bring concessions to the lake’s shore under Napa County management.
“I’m sending this letter hoping that you’ll be able to exercise leadership on this pressing issue,” Thompson wrote.
On Friday, Thompson released a statement on the latest progress.
“Like people across our community, I am frustrated at the long delays in this process and have been doing everything I can to support the county and bring the Bureau of Reclamation to the table for a fair discussion,” he said. “I recently spoke with the Bureau’s commissioner and I’m glad to see that discussions regarding the details of a long-term agreement will continue.”
When contacted by the Napa Valley Register, the Bureau of Reclamation released a statement by email.
“While the process has taken longer than anticipated, Reclamation continues to engage with county officials and is fully committed in this process,” the statement said. “Details will be shared when available.”
Lake Berryessa has seven resorts. Markley Cove Resort and Pleasure Cove Marina are operating at full strength, with marinas and other amenities. Three resorts are operating in stripped-down fashion under interim concessionaires, offering such things as camping, boat launching and RV camping. Two are closed.
A study released by the county in February by a real estate firm found nine potential bidders for resort redevelopment. They could bring hotels, restaurants, glamping, marinas and other amenities some or all of the resort sites.
One request by the county is for the ability to offer potential resort redevelopers 55-year leases. The Bureau in its failed redevelopment attempts offered 30-year leases, with roads, water systems and other infrastructure then to reverting to the federal government.
Pedroza said the shorter leases don’t make financial sense for resort developers. He was asked if the 55-year lease is a make-or-break issue for Napa County.
“It’s a make or break to have reasonable, sustainable development,” Pedroza said.