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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Marina plan over budget, without an operator, but DNR won't back off project

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Community needed for clean-up

Plans for the new $3 million State Marina at Casino Beach have run into some snags, but the project is far from sunk, state officials report.

With construction estimates running $200,000 over budget, and with the site about to lose its operator and with no concessionaire willing to run the planned restaurant, Department of Natural Resources planner Don Labate admits that the DNR "has its hands full" with the project.

"Based on the estimates we have now, we are about $200,000 short, although we won't know for sure until we bid portions of the project out," he said. "We will need to find more money to complete the plan, and there are other larger projects around the state competing for that money, but I think we will find some funds available when it comes down to it. This is an important project for the DNR, and I don't think it would leave it undone."

Who is going to operate the marina is a big question mark.

Current marina operator Marvin Hartman was offered a deal for a contract extension of one year to keep the marina going during construction, plus a two-year deal as operator of the new marina once it is built, but has turned the deal down.

"I believe his feeling is that it was not a long enough commitment, and he is already starting to move out," Labate said.

That leaves the DNR only two options as of Dec. 31 - to try to use existing parks employees to operate the necessities for boating services next season and then try to find a new operator to start fresh for the new state marina the following year, or rush out a new proposal in hopes of finding a manager immediately "who will be willing to work through the mess."

Butch Parks, operator of Parks Marina in Okoboji, is interested in taking over the marina under the same deal offered to Hartman, but state officials are not prepared to extend that deal.

"We made those arrangements especially for Mr. Hartman because he is already on site and we would have liked for him to have the opportunity to stay," Labate said.

State policies allow for no more than a five-year deal with a concessionaire, he said.

Currently, DNR officials are leaning toward operating the marina themselves for 2007, although an arrangement with Parks or someone else is still possible.

None of the potential operators were interested in the DNR plan to have a second story on the main marina serve as a residence for a manager in order to have someone 24 hours on the site. The building is being redesigned as a single story. A system of gates and cameras will probably be used to replace 24-hour security.

The DNR has also been unable to find someone willing to take over the indoor/outdoor restaurant for the marina. The restaurant space will be built as an empty shell that might be used temporarily as a convenience store, Labate said.

"We are hoping that once King's Pointe opens and we have more tourism interest in Storm Lake, someone will step forward and take on the restaurant, or at least put a grill in there, and finish the space out to suit them," Labate said.

Alcohol sales on the site remains a major issue.

All of the local restaurant operators contacted about the project felt the marina restaurant could not be successful without selling alcohol.

"This is currently the only state-operated site in Iowa that sells alcohol, and it only sells beer," Labate said. "But the DNR has been instrumental in pushing for boater drinking laws, and some of the leaders of the DNR feel very strongly that we should not be selling liquor where people are operating boats. That doesn't mean the issue may not be revisited, but currently the DNR is leaning away from alcohol sales.

Work is already underway on the new marina. The sanitary sewer system is being completed, which will allow the state to abandon a line that currently runs in the lake. The result is considered safer for the environment.

Silt from the dredging of the bay has now been spread over a three-to-four acre area to dry, and will be worked into the soil to produce more soil mass to use as fill for site work next summer.

The eastern half of the site will be done first. A road is being designed now to go to bid within a couple of months - that area will eventually house tourist cabins, restrooms and other amenities.

Next, bids will be taken to clear the overgrowth area around the peninsula. The area is full of downed trees, brush, garbage and old boat parts, Labate said. "We counted 25 barrels that were dumped back there."

The DNR is inviting civic groups in Storm Lake to get involved in a major clean-up project for the site sometime next spring. Local Boy Scout organizations have expressed an interest in helping to construct recreation trails.

The first building to be constructed will be the boat storage and repair shop on the southwest edge of the site. Repairs have been moved to that building from the original plan that had it in the main concessions building. DNR officials want to separate the noise and odors from the food service areas.

Finally, the concessions building, complete with a boat showroom, will be built in the northwest part of the site. When it is done, the current marina building can be moved away or demolished.

Road construction will begin in late April or May of 2007, delayed long enough for the annual DNR fish stripping project which helps produce fish to stock in Iowa lakes. "We don't want to do anything to get in the way of that or stir up the water in that early April period," Labate said.

There are still many large rocks in the water to be removed.

The DNR plans to bring in the barge that is stationed on the Okoboji lakes, with an excavator attached, to clear them out next spring or summer.

Currently, plans are to simply name the new site Storm Lake State Marina. Plans to call it Casino Bay have been scrapped. "The folks at city hall liked the idea of Storm Lake in the name, and they think it is important to stress that it is the state's first-ever officially-designated state marina on the maps," Labate said. "There was no interest in maintaining a Casino Beach or Casino Bay name - I really don't think there is any benefit to us for using the term 'casino' which might have a negative connotation to some people. We are not a lock on the name at this point."

The DNR is also uncertain if the current operator will or will not continue to provide local service for putting in and taking out boat hoists around the lake. If so, he will need to obtain permission for access to DNR-controlled lakeshore, Labate said, and if not, some other alternative will have to be sought.

Despite the setbacks, DNR officials said they remain confident that the marina will be done as planned, and that it will contribute to greater appeal in tourism and outdoor recreation in the region.

"We have challenges," said Julie Sievers, the DNR's local official in Storm Lake, "but I think these are challenges that we can overcome."

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