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KIRBY'S KATCH

Update on Lake Oroville
By: Kirby Desha for The News Messenger
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I love fishing at Lake Oroville, and up until the collapse of the overflow section last year, my favorite launch ramp was the main ramp at the spillway. It’s easily accessible and huge, with 12 lanes and a giant parking lot.

The ramp has been closed during the construction process and it’s being used as a staging area for the equipment. Now there has been some talk about the possibility that the California Department of Water Resources will not reopen it after the repairs are completed.

In a press conference held Oct. 4, DWR Assistant Director of Public Affairs Erin Mellon confirmed there is a possibility that the ramp would not be reopened. Mellon cited security concerns as one reason.

“We’re talking to local security groups like the sheriff’s office and others because there are some concerns about access to infrastructure,” she said. “Those discussions are still underway. We do want to open it up again after construction ends, but if there are security concerns those obviously impact the effort to reopen.”

Two options would be to have people use an alternate route to the ramp or create a new launch point.

“I can’t say with certainty anything,” Mellon said. “I think the work we’ve done at Loafer Creek is exciting whether or not you have access to the spillway launch ramp. I can’t give you an ‘absolutely it will be open January 2019.’”

DWR is balancing security concerns with needs of the community and aims to ensure access is the same or better than it was before the spillway incident, Mellon said.

“We want to provide adequate access to the lake at all levels and make sure we’re not changing the access that was there previously,” Mellon said.

The lake and overall security of the dam is a national security concern, subject to Critical Energy Infrastructure Information restrictions, she said.

 “That’s a Homeland Security concern,” Mellon said. “That is top of mind, not just at Lake Oroville.”

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, said closing the spillway ramp would be an overreaction and he is “100 percent opposed” to the idea.

“What I would propose is DWR find some ways to boost up personnel there that could keep an eye on things,” LaMalfa said. “It doesn’t need to be a security discussion. Nothing insecure happened. The spillway broke.”

Local pilot Gonzalo “Peewee” Curiel said he doesn’t understand why driving across the top of the dam is a security concern, while people can fly over it or cruise by in a boat.

“By closing this off, all you’re doing is hurting the law-abiding (people),” Curiel said.

Kevin Zeitler, chair of the Oroville Recreational Advisory Committee, said the closure of the spillway ramp means long lines at the others and many people won’t put up with that.

“Really, the $64,000 question is — this is a huge facility, the largest parking lot and ramp by far — if it isn’t going to be functioning, what’s going to replace it?” Zeitler said. “If it’s not near the existing road, it could cost millions to put a road in. If it’s not going to be used, let’s get engineering and funding done (for a new ramp), ready to go in two years.”

Portions of this report are from an article by Risa Johnson, published in the Chico Enterprise-Record Oct. 16.