County residents may see increased public access to Tulloch Reservoir in the near future.
At a meeting of the Calaveras County Planning Commission on March 12, planners approved Tri-Dam Project’s application for a planned development permit to construct a public day-use recreational area on the Calaveras County side of Tulloch Reservoir in Copperopolis.
Tri-Dam is a partnership between the Oakdale Irrigation District and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, and developed, operates and maintains by the Beardsley, Donnells and Tulloch projects.
The project site, which is just west of O’Byrnes Ferry Bridge at 7430 O’Byrnes Ferry Road, is planned to include picnic areas, a 53-foot fishing pier, 16 parking spaces, a 600-square-foot building for storage and office space, a two-unit restroom and a car-top launch facility for non-motorized boats.
While use of the area is intended to be free, Tri Dam does reserve the right to charge for services if deemed necessary to cover the costs of maintaining the facility.
During an initial public hearing regarding the project on Oct. 24, 2019, commissioners and adjacent property owners expressed concerns about the project, which included traffic impacts, public safety, maintenance and trespassing.
In response, a traffic analysis was completed, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) documents were updated, and Tri-Dam agreed to construct an 8-foot-high concrete wall adjacent to the restroom to lessen potential nuisance from the project and discourage trespassing onto a neighboring property.
The traffic impact assessment estimated that the project would likely increase traffic on O’Byrnes Ferry Road by about 116 daily trips – not enough to significantly impact the operation of the road – and that the construction of a left turn lane for accessing the site was unnecessary.
Planner Madeleine Flandreau outlined the details of the project at the beginning of the meeting.
“The parcel is 5.25 acres in size with approximately 1.5 acres being above the high water mark, depending on the reservoir levels,” she said.
“The proposed day-use facility will be operated by Tri-Dam, and will include a security system, electronic access gate and locking restrooms to ensure security and inaccessibility from dusk until dawn.”
Flandreau said that the project meshes well with the General Plan goals of creating a high-quality system of recreational facilities enhancing the quality of life and health of residents and visitors and contributing to the county’s economy; providing a minimum of three acres of local park land for every 1,000 county residents; and developing a program to identify public waterways, lakes and reservoirs which lack reasonable public access, but are required to provide such access to comply with state statutes.
“As there is currently very limited public access to Tulloch Reservoir in Calaveras County, this proposed location-specific, recreation-oriented commercial use is consistent with the policies of the General Plan,” she said.
Susan Larson, license compliance coordinator for Tri-Dam, spoke on behalf of her organization.
“This is really important,” she said. “The public needs to have a way to get to the reservoir in the event that they’re not lucky enough to own on the reservoir, or they’re not able to go down to the Southshore facility, which is truly the only public access.”
Larson said that Tri-Dam has an obligation under its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license to ensure the continued operation and maintenance of the site following construction.
“We will also have an obligation … to have an operational and maintenance plan that doesn’t leave, that goes on for the next 40 years,” she said. “And none of this is paid for by any taxpayers in Calaveras County, Tuolumne County or surrounding regions. It’s completely paid for by our agency and by our partner districts through hydroelectric revenues that we generate.”
Larson said that Tri-Dam has been working for years to increase public access to the reservoir.
“We just really are anxious to go forward with a building project that we’re proud of, and the county is proud of, and hopefully, our neighbors are proud of,” she said. “That is our goal.”
Several members of the public aired their concerns. Larson addressed them one by one afterwards, and several additions were made to the plan. The contention that a left-turn lane was necessary in order to ensure public safety came up repeatedly.
“I’m not convinced that this is a safe project with respect to access,” District 4 Commissioner Kelly Wooster said. “I’m not convinced that the volume estimate of traffic on the road is correct.”
District 3 Commissioner and Board Chair Michelle Plotnik said that she thought remaining issues could be worked out in the permitting process.
“I’m comfortable with everything as presented,” she said. “I know that there are a number of details to be worked out, and that those will be taken care of by further permitting.”
The commission voted 4-1 to approve the project, with Wooster voting in opposition.
“This decision will be final unless appealed to the board of supervisors within 15 days,” Deputy County Counsel Julie Moss-Lewis said.
Larson said that she was pleased with the results of the meeting over the phone the next day.
“I am (excited), and my agency, and board of directors is very excited,” she said. “It will provide the public, who otherwise might not have access to the reservoir, with a place to use the reservoir, whether it be picnicking, using the fishing pier, or launching car-top vessels like stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and canoes.”
Tri-Dam doesn’t yet have a timeframe for the completion of the project, Larson said.
“We don’t yet,” she said. “We obviously are trying to actively move forward as quickly as we possibly can, but as county counsel present yesterday at the planning commission meeting advised the commission and members of the public, there is a 15-day appeal period.”
Larson said that the site was a good fit for the recreational area.
“It’s a site that’s zoned general commercial, so it allows it as a permitted use,” she said. “There was a commercial marina operated on that site that was far more intensive – it had fuel sales, boat rentals. Our project, as we envision it, will be a nice amenity, a nice way for the public, passers-by, people in the local communities, to enjoy the reservoir.”