Monday, August 15, 2005

New Mexico Sailing Club, Heron Lake marina update

Monday, August 15
Heron is holding pretty steady at 7152.66' elevation, 230,928 acre feet. Rain in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico has sent about 1000 acre feet into the lake in the last 72 hours. Modest releases from the lake have let out a net 700 acre feet in the last 72 hours but the lake is even for the past week.

The marina is open, our second set of dockmasters has gone on duty, and yesterday we were up to 17 boats in the marina. Several tasks still need to be done. Perhaps our most urgent tasks are figuring out a way to hook up the short truss at the east end of C south and getting the gangway working. However, things are gradually coming together; the grills are running (grills inside were scrubbed) and the area under the pavillion has been cleared. This weekend's crews reported some good sailing and a gorgeous double rainbow.

Don't forget the "Heron Lake Town Hall" Meeting on Friday, August 19th, 6:00 to 8:00 P.M. at the state park visitors center, sponsored by the Friends of El Vado and Heron Lakes. State Parks director Dave Simon and his boss, Energy, Minerals, & Natural Resources cabinet secretary Joanna Prukop, plan to be there. So, what are your plans?

This Saturday morning (August 20, starting about 10 AM) we will have a board and member meeting, then perhaps a fun race if there's someone to organize it, then a dinner (salad and meat provided; bring a dessert or something yummy to share).

Letter sent to one New Mexico Sailing Club member with concerns....
The refund amount will be the topic of this coming Saturday morning's NMSC board meeting (about 10 AM), which will be followed by a general meeting, possibly a fun race if there's someone to organize it, then a dinner (meat & salad will be provided; bring a dessert or something yummy to share). Also this weekend will be the Heron Lake town hall meeting, Friday 6 to 8 PM at the state park visitor center.

I sure hope you can get to the lake soon. Please come, with or without Cacti in tow. Our own teenager is busy with school, scout, and orchestra stuff (and went to Philmont this summer) but he plans to be on the lake most of the coming weekends and would like to have some buddies for kayaking and sailing. It was fun watching the double rainbow this weekend and seeing boats coming in and out of the marina; I think we're up to 17 boats so far.

something sent out to someone else who had some concerns....

Hi , I can't speak for everyone, but I'm just grateful to see some boats in the marina and people going out sailing and using the marina. There's a potential for at least a couple of months of sailing through October, depending upon weather, and any chance to get on the water feels wonderful after the long drought. .... The income statement is not really an issue, since this isn't anything like a normal year. Depending on how much of a refund the board votes for, the club is extremely likely to have more expenses that we will receive from dues and slip income. (Insurance, for example, costs around 25 to 30% more than it used to and is spread among fewer people than in years past. However, we do have the "cushion" of the insurance settlement that we hope to save and grow so we can eventually replace the marina with something more grounding-resistant.)

The refund/pro-rating/slip fee adjustment issue has been discussed at the last couple of board meetings, but couldn't be handled very well at all until we finally got the insurance a week ago and knew when we'd really open. Until then, and especially earlier in the season, we were "flying blind" with way too many unknowns and too little information. Would the actual lake level come anywhere near predictions? Could we get the marina patched up? Would any of the buoys be usable? Would we get insurance, and when, and what kind, and at what price? Would there be any problems with the state parks folks? Would we be able to dredge up the buried trusses? Could we free one of the reinforcing cables and fabricate and install replacement truss braces? On and on it went; a relatively small group of people has been very gradually getting answers, failing at some things and succeeding at others.

Until very recently, we could do little more than speculate, hope, and do our darndest to rattle the cages of the insurance folks and keep plugging away at fixing the marina, sometimes with very few volunteers, especially as the season wore on. When a couple of people brought up the issue of slip refunds, I told them what I knew and passed their email on so the board would know about it. Where there was real information of some sort or another, it was put on the website (mostly in the "blog" section of "community exchange", since we don't yet have "forums" set up). So, you could have read all about marina re-construction and lake levels, and wonderful things like that, along with occasional updates on the frustrating hunt for insurance. I think the willingness to work with members has been there all along, but it's been hard to proceed until the club succeeded with its near-life-or-death issues.

Late Saturday afternoon there was a glorious rainbow to the east of the marina. It was a treat to see Raph hold up his young daughter so she could see the spectacle.

Please show up this coming weekend, with or without your boat in tow. Alan and I helped each other launch our Macs the other day, so it ought to be snap to launch your boat if you think there might be any chance at all for you to get on the water and have some fun. There will be the Heron Lake town hall meeting Friday at 6, then a board and member meeting around 10-ish Saturday morning, and then dinner on Saturday evening; the gas grills are now at the marina and their grills are the cleanest they've been in a while.

something sent out to a marina making company

Hi Roger,
Thanks for your quick e-mail and your interest in our marina and what could be done about it by you and the Shoreline/Galvafoam folks.

The marina is in a protected cove near the head of Heron Lake, in northern New Mexico about 300 miles upstream from Elephant Butte and only about 15 miles south of the Colorado border. Our family's boat is migratory and we sail in Elephant Butte during the early spring and fall, so we're quite familiar with the Butte and the marinas there as well as with our New Mexico Sailing Club marina at Heron.

The creek that feeds the lake comes into Willow Creek cove, then proceeds through a half-mile-long canyon called "The Narrows" before going into the main body of the lake, which has 6,000 surface acres and 400,000 acre feet when full. The cove typically freezes in the depths of winter along with a portion of the main lake, with the ice disappearing in late winter or early spring. The cove acts as a silt trap for the lake and has accumulated about 25 feet of silt since the lake was first filled back in 1973. So, the bottom under the marina is relatively level and soft, except for a small ridge rising near one corner and the deeper creek bed about 30 to 40 yards beyond the end of the marina.

The marina is now floating in 28 feet of water. The lake is now 58% full and its surface elevation is about 7,153 feet above sea level/benchmark. If the lake were at spillway level, the marina would be in 61 feet of water. Because the cove bottom is fairly level, horizontal movement of the marina would not have much effect on the depth it floats in except near the shoreline. Also, the need to keep clear of the creek channel and maintain a channel for the nearby boat ramp somewhat limit movement of the marina within the cove, though there could well be room to add on to the existing structure.

During the first 30 years of the lake's history, water levels fluctuated within a relatively narrow band, with the lake remaining predictably between 50% and 100% full. Various municipalities are entitled to empty about 1/4 of the lake each year, which is replenished annually through southern Colorado snowmelt water diverted through the Azotea Tunnel under the Continental Divide.

Water was in good supply throughout much of the lake's history, until a severe drought hit the southwest about five years ago. At its low point, the lake was down to 27% of capacity and the marina was about 7 feet _above_ the water level. (Without the silt accumulation, we'd never have grounded.) The lake has to be about 38 to 40 percent full for the marina to float and about 70 percent full for the normal gangway connection to shore to be safe and effective. (A temporary path is now being used that limits marina accessibility.)

In the summer of 2003, concerns about possible changes in the application of water laws combined with the drought to cause a faster and greater than usual lowering of the lake. Before the marina grounded, the club took the precaution of disconnecting the cable-and-truss substructure from the main pier and finger pier structures so that the weight of the piers wouldn't crush and buckle the substructure.

However, the substructure trusses were delicate enough that even slight unevenness of the bottom, combined with repeated floodings and dryings and inundation by silt, caused warping and distortion of some of the truss structures, and localized failures in a couple of instances. Also, a few braces and assorted bits of hardware disappeared into the silt. On one of the piers, a couple of truss segments were buried in at least three feet of silt and were not feasible to recover.

Most of the marina has been repaired, with one area that will not be used because of the missing truss segments. However, the grounding has accelerated the aging of the marina and so the club needs to plan for its replacement. The club and its previous insuror settled a claim for damage and business interruption and the club now has funds to pay for partial replacement of the marina. The club paid off its loan for the exisitng marina just after the drought forced the marina's closure.

Among the several options open to the club are (1) trying to stay in the cove, and (2) moving to the main lake.

(1) The cove is in a beautiful location that provides good natural protection and is near a mast-up boat storage lot and boat ramp. The cove is also relatively quiet and private. However, continued silting of the cove, more intensive use of water resources in the region, and future droughts could cause repeated groundings, which would eventually degrade and destroy the existing marina and shorten or cancel future sailing seasons.

(2) Moving to the main lake would incur many expenses, including assembly and installation of a floating wave attenuator (tire wall). The existing marina may not be in good enough condition to survive partial disassembly and re-assembly without major, costly repairs. Permits, paperwork, road access, parking, mast-up storage lot, and boat ramp improvements are examples of issues that would have to be addressed with Heron Lake State Park. Aside from the difficulty of moving the existing delicate structure, and the need to partially disassemble the marina to get it through "the narrows", movement would be made easier because we have no utilities to worry about other than a simple pump out hose that goes to a sewage tank on land.

The state parks people know that we might have to move someday and do have a few sites in mind. An advantage of a main lake location would be access to deep water so that the marina could be repositioned to accomodate changes in lake level (though we would need to develop a more extensive ramp/gangway/path from the marina to the shore than we now have).

I think that the club members hope to hang on for at least a little longer in our existing site. That would give us time to recover from the demoralization of our two-year closure, fatten our bank account, and replace part of the marina with something that's more grounding-resistant and easy to live with, then replace more parts of the marina. If in a couple of years or so we have to move into the main lake, by then the club would have experience with the new design and perhaps funds to replace the whole marina. A possible advantage of a new design might perhaps be more variety of slip sizes; right now we have a few 20' slips with all the rest being identical 25' slips, yet we have had boat lengths from 15' to 30' to accomodate.

I could also send you some pictures (compressed jpeg format) of the marina in its cove. I hope this gives you a better picture of our situation and whether it might be something for which you'd have a solution. We will have volunteer "dockmasters" on duty at the marina until October 22. Usually a few of the club officers or board members are there on weekends; I will be there about half the weekends. I would be happy to provide you with detailed driving directions to the marina or any information you might need about travel and area accomodations. Some good club members for you to talk with might be

Gary ------ -- professional engineer, very familiar with our existing marina, one of the people interested in buying and installing a partial marina replacement for evaluations;
Ray ------ -- professional in a metal fabrication company, SCUBA diver who has very hands-on knowledge of the marina structure and its condition, also one of the people to talk to about marina replacement;

Also, Al -----, who was very active in disassembly of the marina two years ago and past commodore of the club; Lisa ------, club commodore; Roger -------, club treasurer and webmaster; Gary -------, who is very familiar with the marina; and Pete -------, who led a work crew to "excavate" buried trusses. Also, quite a few club members have served on marina volunteer work crews at one time or another and know the marina very well and several also have memories of the construction of the present marina.

Disclaimer -- Of course, what I've given you are my interpretations and opinions; other folks may have better knowledge of what's what and what needs to be done or what can or should be done by the club about our marina. I will gladly defer to the experts and of course to the judgement and decisions of our club board and officers.

Again thanks, and thanks also for your patience in reading this long explanation. Let me know what you think.

Roger S----- writes:

We would be very interested in working with you on a plan to avoid damage in low water conditions. How much damage did you sustain during the low water. I assume you are on Elephant Butte Reservoir? I was at the lake during the low water. It was unbelievable.
What is your timetable for doing this? Are there any bathometric data available to know how far the marina would move to stay floating in those conditions? I would prefer to schedule an on site visit to know for sure how to develop your design. Every marina and condition is different and custom. There are no two that need the exact same thing.

Thank you for the inquiry. I look forward to working with you.
Roger S------ Shoremaster, Inc.


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