Officials pause on mussels action

County officials have delayed action on awarding a $106,000 contract to a consultant helping it deal with invasive quagga mussels at Nacimiento Lake until they can meet with a five-member group charged with overseeing the lake.

The Nacimiento Commission will meet Feb. 23, according to Dean Benedix of the county Public Works Department.

The group was bypassed as county officials sought to award a $106,000 extension to a contract with TJ Cross Engineers.

In its recommendation, Public Works said TJ Cross has provided engineering and management services since 2004 and has “played an integral part in assisting ... to initiate, plan and implement ... mussel prevention.”

It has formed “positive working relationships” with state and local elected officials, homeowners and other stakeholders, Public Works engineer Courtney Howard wrote. Keeping TJ Cross on board will “ensure that the program does not lose momentum,” she wrote.

But as supervisors were poised to act at their Jan. 10 meeting, Benedix asked that they pull the matter from their agenda.

In a later conversation with The Tribune, Benedix said those involved want to make sure the commission is fully informed.

He also conceded that there has been concern that a consultant is receiving a six-figure contract to do work that some lake area residents feel can be handled by locals.

Martin Rowley, who works for Heritage Ranch, said there are 30 ramps, many of them private, to monitor for the dangerous species.

Quagga mussels have been spreading into California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Utah waterways over the past five years.

The shellfish “reproduce at incredible rates and cluster and clog boat hulls, propellers, engines and intakes; cover piers and pilings; clog water pipes and intakes; and ultimately coat the water’s edge with sharp, smelly shells,” county engineers wrote last year.

“Worse,” they wrote, “once mussels get a foothold, there is no known way to get them out of our lakes.”

Lake Mead in Nevada and Arizona is infested, as are 25 locations in California, including Lake Havasu and the Colorado River, which border Arizona as well.

The closest infested lake is San Justo Lake in San Benito County, which has been closed to the public.

Locally, officials have sought to head off the mussels, so far successfully.

Their concern goes beyond just Nacimiento Lake. The $176 million Naci-miento water system, which opened last year and provides water to several communities, consists of 45 miles of pipeline, storage tanks and pump stations.

At the county’s two other public lakes, Lopez and Santa Margarita, boats are inspected as they go through the gates.

In an email to The Tribune, Public Works Director Paavo Ogren wrote that the prevention program at Nacimiento Lake is “not fully in place,” adding that the county, in cooperation with Monterey County, has developed “several multiyear strategies.”

“Due to the number of private docks around the lake, the private ramp inspections are still a significant work item,” Ogren wrote.

Former county Public Works engineer Christine Halley is the county’s key contact with TJ Cross.