The boating season on Big Bear Lake has been postponed until at least April 7. The Big Bear Municipal Water District board of directors voted 3-1 to move the opening date of the East Ramp public launch from April 1 to April 7.
Bob Ludecke voted no, saying April 7 is too early in light of COVID-19. Board member John Eminger did not attend the telephone meeting.
Board member Tom Bradford is in favor of opening the lake to boating. “A person on a boat in Big Bear Lake is not a threat to spread the virus,” Bradford said. “They can maintain the 6-foot distance.”
Board president Charlie Brewster said allowing boats access to the lake would be a good way for people to relieve stress. Bradford suggested allowing banded boats onto the lake, meaning boats that have already passed quagga inspections and are tagged. He also suggested limiting the number of boats per day on the water.
Both saw value in the lake being a stress reliever for people, and that the 6-foot distancing could be achieved.
A suggestion to limit lake access to local boaters was quickly overruled by Ludecke, who explained that as a public lake that accepts state funds, it would be against the law to restrict the lake to local use. He recommended keeping the public launch ramps closed until May 1 “so we can get a handle on how the virus is progressing,” Ludecke said.
The board voted to postpone opening the East Ramp until April 7 with limited operations. Banded vessels will need to purchase a current year lake use permit, nonbanded boats will need to make an appointment with the main district office to have their boat decontaminated and purchase a lake-use permit. Only one person per vessel will be allowed to operate their boat during the decontamination process to communicate with MWD staff.
The East Ramp parking lot will be limited to 25 cars, after which the gate will be closed. The board will re-evaluate the operations for possible modifications to the procedure within a couple of weeks after the April 7 date.
The board plans to discuss the East Ramp again at its next regular board meeting on Thursday,
April 2. The MWD holds a Marina Task Force meeting Tuesday, March 31, to discuss 2020 lake operations with marina owners.
Recreation on a lake is not on the list of essential services in the California governor’s order to stay at home. The city of Big Bear Lake, along with Visit Big Bear, recently enacted restrictions on lodging facilities and vacation rentals, and directly discouraged visitors to Big Bear Lake as of March 19.
Ludecke brought up the city’s announcement and asked if a MWD board decision to open the boat launch would be contradictory to the city’s position. Bradford said if it proved to attract too many boaters, the board could revisit the issue and make adjustments.
MSD general manager Mike Stephenson expressed his concern over opening the launch ramp as scheduled. He compared the lake to Disneyland.
“At the end of the day we have a duty to protect our people,” Stephenson said. “I think we need to be careful. We’re trying to do the best we can to protect our Valley.”
Frank Rush, Big Bear Lake city manager, was asked by The Grizzly his thoughts on the MWD board decision. He said he was aware the board was considering the opening, and he absolutely respects the decision if the board thinks it will be OK to open
April 7. Rush said if it’s realized it is too soon, it will be easy for the board to push that date back. He said there is no harm in shooting for April 7.
Stephenson said he supports the board’s decision, but expressed several concerns during the meeting.
“Right now we don’t have enough people to man the ramps,” Stephenson said, adding that the MWD does have a list of potential employees who have trained for the position and are certified to conduct quagga inspections. “But my question is are we subjecting our new hires at the ramp more to the public than we do to ourselves here at the office?”
The MWD office is closed to public access. All business is being conducted digitally. Before
March 24, the MWD had a hiring freeze.
Holloway’s Marina owner Loren Hafen was the only member of the public to phone in to the telephone conference call. Hafen said he hoped the board would delay a decision until after the task force meeting. As a marina owner, he personally would like to see the opening be postponed, even as late as May 1. He added that he is not speaking for other marina owners. “That’s my position as a marina owner, even if I don’t want to say it,” Hafen said.
The Big Bear Lake shoreline is open for fishing. Stephenson said Lake Patrol is keeping an eye out and telling people to maintain the 6-foot distance.