Breakwater project stalls

McPhee boat ramp lacks calm water

The breakwater construction at McPhee Reservoir has stalled while the engineering has to be worked out.


It was supposed to be floated into position last summer, but a new breakwater system for the McPhee Reservoir boat launch is still lying on shore.

Engineering snags for the structure's anchor design have delayed the project indefinitely, according to officials with Montezuma County and the San Juan National Forest.

The county contracted with Blue Water Design, of San Pedro Calif., to draw up the engineering plans for the McPhee boat ramp, but where exactly to connect the structure to the lake bottom is still unclear.

"It is ready to be installed, but we are still waiting for Blue Water to identify proper anchor point locations, and they are not responding to our calls," said county commissioner Steve Chappell.

A $158,384 recreation grant was awarded to the county in 2010 by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to build and install the structure after the previous one was destroyed by a fire in 2002. The county pitched in another $50,000.

The Blue Water engineering plans were submitted, and the county hired Circle Zebra fabricators, of Mancos, to build the breakwater tire structure and accompanying winches and cables, which they did successfully, said James Dietrich, community services coordinator for the county.

"They did an outstanding job, and they are also waiting for an appropriate anchor-point design so they can install the system," he said.

Based on a reputation for building breakwaters at Lake Powell and Navajo Reservoir, the county contracted with Blue Water Design, to engineer the project, Chappell said.

"We paid them a good chunk of money, but have not followed through on the final design," he said. "We may have our attorney file a more formal request."

Blue Water was paid $9,000 to design the project, according to county records.

The county says the original anchor points identified by Blue Water will not work because they are in too shallow of water.

"The problem appears to be a flawed design," Dietrich said.

Winches, cables, and anchor points on the lake bed work together to raise and lower the 400-foot breakwater as water levels fluctuate, and also to move it laterally back and forth to adjust for varying shorelines.

"If installed as designed now, the cables would be out of the water during low reservoir levels due to the different contours and shallow elevation of the lake bottom at that location," Dietrich said.

The exposed cables would become an obstacle for boats maneuvering into the calm water created by the breakwater.

Efforts have been made to find another engineer to redesign the anchor points but no company has the expertise locally.

"It is really specialized - that is why we hired a company with the credentials of Blue Water," Dietrich said.

A message left for Blue Water was not returned as of press time.

In the meantime, launching from the McPhee Boat will go on, but without the comfort of calm water. Whether the breakwater could be installed this summer is unknown.

Long-term plans for the McPhee boat ramp include a larger, 800-foot breakwater, a mooring field for watercraft, and a marina.

"Once we get the breakwater in, then we can begin to look into a competitive bid on a special-use permit for marina services," said Tom Rice, recreation specialist for the San Juan National Forest.

jmimiaga@cortezjournal

Three positions of a 400-foot breakwater design at the McPhee boat ramp. The system adjusts for varying shorelines and water levels. Eventually, the breakwater will be increased to 800 feet (Phase 2). Once installed, forest officials will consider permitting a marina at the site. Enlargephoto

Three positions of a 400-foot breakwater design at the McPhee boat ramp. The system adjusts for varying shorelines and water levels. Eventually, the breakwater will be increased to 800 feet (Phase 2). Once installed, forest officials will consider permitting a marina at the site.