A report released Wednesday outlined the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's vision for making significant improvements to the New Melones Lake Marina within the next two years.
The study looked at the possible environmental impacts of a nearly $7.5 million proposed development project that would move the popular marina from its current location in the Glory Hole Recreation Area to a cove in the Black Bart Day Use Area, while adding a restaurant and more sites for lodging in the new spot as well.
Strong winds that blow in from the southwest every winter at the marina's current location can cause "extensive damage" to both the structure and boats docked at it, according to the document.
"The environmental assessment helps us to prepare the prospectus which outlines the types of services, facilities, development associated with those facilities, recreational opportunities and other expectations we would have for the contractor," said Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Pete Lucero.
The study found no significant impact to the environment from expanding the facilities or moving the marina to the Black Bart Day Use Area, which is west of its current location on the opposite shore where it would be better protected from the weather.
The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages New Melones Reservoir and its recreation areas, is looking to award a long-term concession contract before its agreement with the current interim concessionaire, Houseboats.com, ends on Dec. 31, 2014.
Comments from the public received before Aug. 16 will be considered for the final draft of the plan. The federal agency is hoping to begin advertising the project to bidders before the end of the year, Lucero said.
"We just went through a resource management plan at New Melones that received a considerable amount of public input on what they would like to see at the lake," Lucero said, adding that more spots for camping, boating and other recreational opportunities were common requests.
The potential development would be tied to the new concession contract for operating the marina. Houseboats.com, which is owned by Shasta Lake Resort, has been running it under an interim contract that lasts all of 2013 and 2014.
According to the study, the estimated total cost of the project would be between $7.4 million and $7.6 million.
"We would expect that the concession contractor would bear those costs (associated with development)," Lucero said.
Lucero said the concessionaire would make its money back through revenues generated by business at the marina during the length of its contract.
"It's a pretty highly sought after opportunity I would think," he said.
A public meeting to gather input from the surrounding community on the Bureau of Reclamation's plans for the marina is scheduled to be held at the New Melones Lake Visitor Center south of the Stevenot Bridge on July 30.
The Twain Harte-based Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center will have a representative in attendance at the meeting, said the organization's director John Buckley. However, he reviewed the study and didn't think the Bureau of Reclamation's current vision had any "clear environmental or social downside."
"Our center recognizes that we still have a lot to learn about the specifics of exactly where facilities will go and how that might affect the oaks or other habitat features at the project site," Buckley said. "But we respect the fact that the government is trying to provide a long-term vision that can benefit the local economy and meet the highest possible visitor demand."
The marina has been in need of improvements for "a long time," said business owner Melanie Lewis, of Glory Hole Sports, located at the entrance to the Glory Hole Recreation Area on Highway 49 in Angels Camp.
"The wind blows in through that cove during the winter and it's like the high seas out there," she said of the marina's current location. "It does horrible damage to the boats."
Lewis said the additional RV hookups and lodging areas described in the study would hopefully be a boon to the local economy.
"If they were able to put more slips in and do overnight moorings that would also be great for encouraging tourism," she added. "I think it would make it a more user-friendly lake."
Over the past 10 years, New Melones Reservoirhas seen an average visitation of 648,545 people annually, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. Nearly 300,000 of those visitors went to the Glory Hole Recreation Area each year.