Regarding "Slipping Away" (Nov. 8, Local News): I have been a houseboat owner since 1986, and my family and I have used and admired the "jewel in our foothills" since its inception. We are now in our third generation of family enthusiasts of Lake Don Pedro.
It is easy to overlook the infrastructure and management needs as one skims across the smooth water, euphoric with the warm valley-scented breeze that blows across the lake or kicking back in a secluded cove enjoying a serene day.
The operator of Lake Don Pedro, Forever Resorts, is a concession overseen by the Don Pedro Recreational Agency under the leadership of director Carol Russell. She is appointed by the Don Pedro Board of Control, comprised of representatives from the boards of the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts and the city and county of San Francisco. The board makes the final decisions on matters such as rate increases for the lake and campgrounds.
The concessionaire agreed to manage the marina, docks, buoys, accesses, boat yard, repair shop and all the allied infrastructure for a budgeted amount, despite the vagaries of the weather, economy, the constant equipment upkeep and replacement.
Houseboat owners pay an annual small fee to the agency for the privilege of keeping their houseboat on Don Pedro as long as they maintain their boat according to size and safety standards set by the board. Additionally, the owners pay a monthly fee to the concessionaire; the amount depends on location, either on a buoy or in slips with utilities.
As the water level rises in the spring and declines in the summer and fall, the lines that secure the docks and buoys have to be adjusted and replaced as needed. Three years ago the entire shore side marina for houseboats was upgraded. The chase boats were upgraded last year to better handle emergencies.
Houseboat rentals were consolidated at Fleming Meadows to increase efficiency as the fleet was reduced from about 40 to 24 boats because of reduced demand in this down economy. This was a major hit to the concessionaire.
There are 257 privately owned houseboats at Don Pedro. There was no rate increase for private moorings from 2003 until 2008, when there was a small increase that was less than the consumer price index.
There have been no rate increases since then, except the elimination of one month free if the entire years charges were paid at the beginning of the year, despite the increased costs for the concessionaire and the extensive new shore line facilities three years ago. The marina also has provided unlimited pump out at no extra charge to meet the agency's requirements for clean water.
The marina has had to reduce its labor force dramatically and cut other costs, and they are still operating in the red, largely due to the beautiful new shore side moorage.
At the Nov. 9 meeting, owners more than filled the Don Pedro meeting room and most objected to the proposed rate increases. (It was unfortunate that the meeting on rate increases was held at the same time as a forum on relicensing the Don Pedro powerhouses because some people wanted to be at both sessions.)
While the Board of Control put off a decision for a month, this meeting did much to heal the breach between owners and management and opened areas for consideration by all the parties.
The settlement of this issue needs to be based on a fair evaluation of the costs facing the concessionaire and a greater recognition of the effects of a large rate increase on core lake supporters.
Forever Resorts cannot be expected operate at a loss, but needs to create inducements for greater use of all its facilities and reduce its reliance on captive houseboat owners. The marina must be managed by professionals familiar with all the environmental and regulatory needs and that is what we have today. It is only reasonable that this business should show some profit for its efforts.
Swatman is a Modesto resident.