Vallecito Marina, 18 miles northeast of Durango, will open this weekend after a legal dispute among managers put its reopening date for the summer season in jeopardy.
After months of negotiations, the Pine River Irrigation District, Vallecito Conservation and Sporting Association, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation created a new management contract to replace the former contract, canceled by PRID because of noncompliance issues. The marina will reopen for the summer, but the coronavirus could still hinder recreation and summer profits.
“We’re trying to eliminate some of the things that happened last time, to learn from the issues that took place, then to take some proactive measures to not duplicate those mistakes in the future,” said Ken Beck, PRID superintendent.
The PRID board of directors will meet Wednesday to address final questions. All parties are scheduled to sign the contract Thursday. The reservoir could reopen as soon as Friday.
Vallecito Reservoir manages downstream irrigation and flood control. More than 65,000 acres of land receive its water, and enough energy to power 5,000 homes. The reservoir’s management is also tied to the community’s economic success. The lake draws recreators from around the country and generates vital summer income for the local business community.
Fixing the contractUnder the old contract, Vallecito Marina, a subgroup of the Vallecito Conservation and Sporting Association, managed the marina for PRID, while VCSA focused on other forms of recreation. PRID manages the reservoir and the dam for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
In January, PRID shared a 185-page report outlining years of noncompliance by recreation managers.
For example, Vallecito Marina was contractually obligated to provide financial, management and other reports to PRID. PRID said it never received the documents.
Vallecito Marina board members used privately owned boats, including boats owned by board members, for marina rentals. Owners were allowed to keep half the profits. Not only was the arrangement noncompliant with the former contract, it also presented concerns about misuse of nonprofit status and liabilities for PRID, Beck said.
During the legal battle, VCSA dissolved the Vallecito Marina group, and PRID canceled its contract with VCSA in February. A $126,000 loan, for which Vallecito Marina members were personally liable, was left hanging in the balance.
After months of negotiations, PRID, VCSA and the Bureau of Reclamation have developed a new contract that addresses past issues, Beck said.
Instead of a 20-plus year contract, the new agreement will last for one year with the possibility of a two-year extension. With a shorter contract, the partners will need to make sure they are fulfilling their obligations on a more regular basis, he said.
PRID will own the entire boat fleet, which means all profits from boat rentals will siphon directly back into the recreation budget. No profits will go to private individuals.
Unlike before, the marina operating committee will include a PRID representative. The district and VCSA will meet to review operations and finances twice a year, instead of once a year. PRID took ownership of the $126,000 loan, and VCSA will repay PRID.
“We’re trying to get back to complete disclosure and transparency,” Beck said.
Looking aheadThe marina and the Vallecito Lake community still face some challenges. Recreation at the lake is financially unsustainable – profits have not covered the marina’s expenses for 66 years, Beck said.
The marina is reopening during the coronavirus pandemic. Boaters and staff must wear face coverings and maintain social distancing, particularly when boats are inspected for invasive species. Boaters should stay close to home and not travel long distances for recreation, which could affect the tourism economy.
While the new contract strongly emphasizes that irrigation and flood control take priority over recreation, Beck said PRID and Bureau of Reclamation investments in the reservoir naturally augment recreation.
“Any efforts we take in improving the project ... directly affects the quality of recreation. It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship,” he said.