Nacimiento resort is under new ownership



Monterey County recently purchased World Water Resorts Inc., a Lake Nacimiento resort, leaving some of the area's homeowners and water enthusiasts questioning the future of their beloved body of water.

"I'm concerned about the level of the water, the property value, and what their long-range plan is," said Lee Johnson, a 20-year Lake Nacimiento resident. "My heartburn for the last 20 years has been about the manner in which [Monterey County officials] have managed the lake."

Back in 1959, San Luis Obispo County entered into an agreement with Monterey County, which gave the northerly neighbors the right to divert Lake Nacimiento's water for their own use. After that agreement, SLO County has been allowed 17,500 acre-feet of water rights each year.

When asked what kind of effect this has on SLO County, John Hollenbeck, the Lake Nacimiento Water Project manager, said the agreement is "not positive or negative."

Lake Nacimiento homeowner Guy Hackman disagrees. He views the agreement as a huge error.

"SLO County screwed up and made one of the worst mistakes ever," he said, referring to the agreement. "The lake is totally 100 percent located in SLO County, but it is 100 percent controlled by Monterey County."

Hackman said he's very skeptical about how well Monterey County would run the resort.

"County government is like any government," he said. "They're not good at making money, but they're pretty good at spending it. I just hope and pray someone qualified takes over the marina from Monterey County."

Monterey County officially took over the Lake Nacimiento resort and Lake San Antonio Resort on Oct. 1 buying both businesses from owner Dan Heath for a reported $22 million.

According to Curtis Weeks, general manager of the Monterey County Water Resource Agency, the purchase was to "settle a litigation with owner Dan Heath." The county's acquisition ended an almost-five-year legal battle in which Heath sued Monterey County, claiming his business would be damaged by plans to lower water levels at Lake Nacimiento. Heath was seeking nearly $170 million in damages.

Heath's lawyer, Michael McCann, didn't return a request for comment as of press time.

A Monterey County official said that they've made a "seamless transition" from being county councilmen to resort operators. A majority of the resort's previous staff was rehired.

"After one day of operation by the county, it's running more smoothly than we expected," said John Pinio, Monterey County's director of parks. "We plan on running it as long as it proves financially feasible, but it's premature to make those kinds of discussions."

Hollenbeck said that rumors surrounding the resort sale about the possibility of the lake becoming a "no-contact" body of water closed to swimmers and skiers are wrong.

SLO County, he said, has an exemption from the California Pubic Health Department's rule that prohibits people from entering a body of water destined for public consumption.

Instead of keeping water enthusiasts at bay, Hollenbeck said there's a 500-foot prohibition zone protected by a log boom that prevents boaters and skiers from entering an intake structure.

Pinio voiced a similar sentiment.

"We want to make it possible for people at Lake Nacimiento to use the water for recreation purposes," Pinio said.

Despite officials' positive words, resident Johnson is still unconvinced about the lake's future.

"I'm concerned about the unknown," he said. "What's going to happen as far the recreational aspects of the lake? It remains to be seen."

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