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Old 03-12-2008, 10:48 AM   #1
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Default Lake Casitas ban on private boats for 12mos.

Lake Casitas boat ban has ripple effect
Loss of revenue from 30,000 launches a year expected to hurt vendors
By Zeke Barlow (Contact)
Saturday, March 8, 2008

Photos by Joseph A. Garcia / Star staff Mike Castro, left, talks with his uncle Fermin Perez while having lunch at Marina Cafe in Lake Casitas. A lake ban on outside boats has businesses concerned over a drop in customers. Perez, of Santa Paula, is a food supplier for the Marina Cafe.

Bill Martinez of Ojai fishes from the shore of Lake Casitas following a recent ban on outside boats, meant to prevent a mussel infestation.

Carlos Hernandez gazed beyond the counter of his Lake Casitas Marina Cafe where he serves up huevos rancheros every morning, past the empty seats lined up against the wall of windows, and looked at the lake shimmering and quiet in the distance.

One boat that is stored at the lake motored to the dock, sending ripples across the otherwise still water.

Hernandez worries about how quiet the coming months will be, when the legions of tournament fishermen no longer come for his breakfast burritos because outside boats have been banned from the lake. He wonders how his business will weather the yearlong restriction at the popular fishing lake.

"We don't know what is going to happen," he said.

The lake is still open to rental boats and those stored at the lake, as well as fishing from shore. But many who depend on the fishermen who flock to the lake for the record-breaking bass are worried about the economic impact of the restriction.

On Tuesday, the Casitas Municipal Water Board voted to close the lake to outside boats for one year in an effort to keep the quagga mussel at bay. The mussel, which was first discovered in the West last year, can produce up to 1 million offspring a year, and can quickly take over a lake, clog pipes and filters and cause a maintenance nightmare for water delivery systems.

But those who depend on the revenue generated from the estimated 30,000 boat launches at the lake annually ? from store owners who sell cold beer and live bait to fishing guides ? will be looking at how much money is lost during the boat ban.

"It's a crummy situation," said Scott Eicher, chief executive officer of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce. "There is a huge amount of people that come and bring money to the lake and Oak View and Ojai, but at the same time if a boat could bring those mussels in, what are you going to do?"

Lake's economic impact

Hard numbers on how much revenue fishermen and boaters bring into the community are hard to come by. One concerned citizen at Tuesday's meeting said he did an informal, unscientific survey of local businesses that showed the loss could be as high as $1.8 million annually.

According a 2006 study by the American Sportfishing Association, an average California angler spends about $108 in retail purchases each day of fishing, or about $1,082 a year. That results in $138 in state and local taxes per fisherman. California ranked fourth among states with the highest fishing expenditures, the study found.

By the time Mark Hoffman buys gasoline, groceries and goes out to eat when he tows his boat from Ventura to Lake Casitas twice a month, he figures he spends about $300 on the trip.

"We drop a lot of money into the local economy," he said. When he heard of a possible boat ban, he swapped his RV that was in storage at the lake for his boat, one day before the vote.

"I feel like I won the lottery," he said.

Board member Pete Kaiser said he thought long and hard about how banning outside boats may hurt the economy before he voted in favor of the restriction. If quagga mussels get into the lake, it could have a much greater impact than just a 12-month ban, he said.

"It's going to have untold ramifications not only on the economy involving the lake, but also the surrounding community because we are going to have a dead sea of sorts," he said. "If the lake is a dead lake, nobody will come to fish, nobody will come to the valley to recreate or lodge."

Mussel infestations costly

If the mussels get into the lake and degrade water quality, new treatment plants could cost $1 million to $100 million, according to a Casitas staff report. Other capital costs could reach $300,000, and annual costs of keeping the quagga in check and running new water treatment plants could top $530,000 annually. And if the mussels change the ecosystem and the great fishing goes away, it would impact the $220,000 in revenue the fishermen bring to the lake every year.

"We've got to look at being more farsighted and what is in the best interest in this generation and future generations," Kaiser said.

Board member Russ Baggerly added, "There is going to be some pain in the interim, but it will not last forever."

But for those counting on this year's revenue, the ban hits hard.

Rod Thigpin knows the coming weeks are some of the best times to hook a monster bass as the females start to spawn.

"This is when I get my clients," said Thigpin, who not only runs a guide service on the lake but also sells 10-inch rubber lures designed for Casitas bass, which can swallow the whole thing in one gulp. He said he has three clients lined up for his $400 tours whom he is going to have to persuade to go to another lake.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," he said. "It's enough to make you nervous."

The ban could also affect the recreation department at the lake, which funds itself solely from money the lake and camping bring in. Brian Roney, park services manager, said about $286,600 will be lost from the boat ban.

At the Corner Market down the road from the lake, where faded photographs of fishermen and their quarry are posted outside the store, Fred Balat has no doubt he'll feel the lack of fishermen.

"Sure it's going to hurt, but how much we don't know," said Balat, the manager.

The store is the last stop for many before the lake, where they stock up on homemade beef jerky, night crawlers and lead weights. During the busy season, he figures more than 200 vehicles with boats pass through his parking lot over a weekend, and each fishermen spends about $50, he estimated.

Steve Adair, who manages the only motel in Oak View, the Oakridge Inn, said he counts on the tournament fishermen who stay at his motel when they come to town. Every tournament brings in about 13 fishermen to stay at least two nights, he said. Sixteen tournaments that were scheduled at the lake this year have been canceled.

"It will affect us," Adair said. "This is not good news."
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