By: Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun
While construction continues along Highway 155 at the Main Dam abutment wall, work is well underway on the other side of Isabella Lake at the Auxiliary Dam and Old Isabella Recreation Areas as part of the Isabella Lake Dam Safety Modification Project.
Crews are taking advantage of the winter season to work on the new facilities that will be installed at the recreation areas located along the eastern side of Isabella Lake.
According to Rick Brown, Army Corps of Engineer spokesperson, the construction period for the recreation areas is held during the fall and winter season, specifically from Labor Day to Memorial Day, in order to ensure that there is minimal impact on the summer tourist and recreation season.
Most recently, crews have been grading the access roads within the recreation areas that have been washed out by rain.
Despite the ongoing construction, Brown emphasizes that the recreation areas have been, and will continue to be, open to the public. The only exception of open access is with periodic safety zones that are designated as “off-limits” to protect public safety. Brown added that those safety zones do not encompass an entire area, rather small portions of the area.
With the approach of the annual Fishing Derby, scheduled for April 4 – 6, Brown said that access to recreation areas will remain open, adding that no construction work will be conducted at the recreation areas during the Fishing Derby.
Brown acknowledged that the new restroom facilities at the recreation areas might not be completed in time for the upcoming Fishing Derby; however, the existing restrooms will remain open and available to the public. Once the new restrooms are in place, the existing facilities will be removed.
The Corps expects that a majority of the work at the recreation areas will be completed by Memorial Day of this year. While there may be some follow-up work required, Brown said that the bulk of construction is expected to be completed by the end of May.
“We have worked really hard to have minimal impact on the public, especially during the spring and summer recreation season. And the Fishing Derby is no exception,” Brown said.
Work at Auxiliary Dam, Old Isabella, and South Fork Recreation areas are all part of mitigation for the multi-million-dollar Isabella Lake Dam Safety Modification Project that has been underway at Isabella since early 2017.
The DSM project will raise both the Main and Auxiliary Dams by 16 feet, and include the construction of a new spillway.
In addition to the increased height, the Auxiliary Dam left abutment will be extended, resulting in the permanent loss of more than seven acres at the Auxiliary Dam Recreation Area.
The Corps determined during the initial environmental impact review that the DSM project would result in significant impacts on recreation, due to the multi-year construction period which would restrict and even eliminate access to recreational areas. Mitigation measures were identified to offset the adverse effects on recreation resulting from the DSM project.
Several of those mitigation measures include the relocation and installation of new facilities at Auxiliary Dam Recreation area, an expansion of the shoreline camping area and installation of new facilities at Old Isabella Road Recreation Area and construction of new facilities at South Fork Recreation area.
New facilities at Auxiliary Dam Recreation area will include a new visitor kiosk, new campground host site, and three new modular vault restroom units of eight stalls per unit, each equipped with external water spigots and interior and exterior electric lighting.
As part of the facilities work, the RV dump site that is currently located at the Auxiliary Dam camp area will be relocated to the Old Isabella camp area. The Corps said that the current dumpsite will remain open to the public until the new site is ready.
Facilities at Old Isabella Road area will include a new kiosk or unmanned fee collection station. The existing single vault toilet building will be retained in place and two additional four-stall restrooms will be added with exterior and interior electric lighting. The existing launch ramp and dock along with the 180-car and trailer parking area will be retained in place.
Improvements are proposed at South Fork Recreation Area to accommodate an anticipated increase in visitor use. The existing camping and launch facilities will be maintained and the single restroom will remain. An additional pre-fabricated, two-stall modular vault restroom will be installed with lighting and exterior water faucet. The parking facilities will also be maintained.
Brown said that crews are making significant headway on the DSM project, adding that it is on target for completion in 2022.