By Tim Leeds
In an about-face, the federal Bureau of Reclamation has decided to seek public comment about a new concessions contract at Tiber Reservoir marina.
The bureau, which manages the reservoir, had produced a concessions plan and was asking for bidders but then withdrew the plan after hearing several complaints.
The bureau is now holding public meetings and likely will revise the plan, said Dan Jewell, deputy area manager in the bureau's Montana office.
"In retrospect I wish we'd have gone this route earlier but unfortunately we didn't," Jewell said. "We're in damage control now."
The couple who has held the concessions contract for the last few years, Cliff and Nancy Nelson, have been operating on year-to-year extensions of the original contract, which had expired, Jewell said. The bureau, which is required by federal regulations to put a concessions prospectus out for public consideration, is trying to make its concessions contracts consistent across the country. That resulted in some major changes in what people had seen at the marina before.
The Nelsons could not be reached for comment this morning.
Noel Walston, board member of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce, said the changes caused some major problems.
"They put a bunch of stipulations on it so nobody could have run it," he said.
Some of the stipulations included constructing a new building to meet health and safety codes at the contract-holder's expense, eliminating the cooked food offered at the marina, and not offering cabin rentals anymore, Walston said.
Don Groven, a former president of the Fresno Chapter of Walleye Unlimited, said the initial prospectus wouldn't have worked. The 10-year contract with the stipulations attached to it would have kept anyone from bidding on it, he said.
The bureau hopes to come out with a revised prospectus that will satisfy the desires of people who use the marina, Jewell said.
"That's our hope. I didn't feel comfortable coming out with something as poorly received as the initial prospectus was. We weren't doing a very good job of meeting public expectations," he said.
The bureau has flexibility on some issues but not on others, Jewell said. Items like cabin rentals and cooking food could be included in the prospectus. But some issues, like what the federal responsibilities are and what the concessionaire's responsibilities are, can't be changed much, he said.
The bureau built Tiber Dam, completed in 1956, primarily for irrigation storage.
Some public meetings have already been held, in Great Falls on Sept. 9 and Tuesday night in Shelby, Jewell said. Meetings will be held in Fort Benton next Tuesday at the Chouteau County Library at 1518 Main St. across from the post office; in Chester Oct. 3 at the St. Mary's Youth Center on Quincy and Main Street, and in Havre Oct. 8 at the Holiday Village Shopping Center community center. All meetings are from 5 to 8 p.m.
With good public participation the bureau should be able to revise the prospectus to meet people's desires, Jewell said.
"I'm optimistic we'll ultimately come up with a better operation. That's what everybody's shooting for," he said.