Coastal Conservancy ponders campground grant for Port San Luis

The state Coastal Conservancy will meet Wednesday and Thursday in Avila Beach to tour the area and consider awarding a $400,000 grant to Port San Luis to help with efforts to establish a campground there.

If awarded, the grant will pay for the environmental review and permits needed to build a campground in the port’s planned Harbor Terrace development. After the campground is operational, the district will refund the grant and share a small portion of the campground’s revenues with the agency.

Harbor manager Steve McGrath said this is an innovative strategy for financing coastal projects and reflects the realities of limited budgets and grant funds. 

“I’m pleased the conservancy is willing to think outside the box and adopt this new approach,” he said.

In the past, the conservancy would have simply awarded a grant to the district with no provision to repay or share revenues. However, the agency has relied on state general obligation bonds approved by voters to fund such grants, but revenues from those bonds are drying up.

Under the new approach, the district would have until about 2023 to refund the grant using revenues it collects from the campground. After that, the conservancy would receive a small portion of the annual revenues from the campground — about 2.5 percent — for the life of the lease, which would be for 30 to 40 years.

“This is not a loan,” McGrath said. “The agency grant will fund the entitlements portion of the project, but if the project doesn’t go through, there is no requirement to repay.”

This new approach benefits the Coastal Conservancy because it gives the agency an ability to recoup some of the grants it makes as well as create a small but long-term revenue source, McGrath said.

The district has been planning the Harbor Terrace development for a decade and received overall approval for it in 2006. It will be up to the contractor who wins the bid to build the development to design the campground, but it could consist of as many as 25 tent cabins, 50 tent camping spaces and 100 recreational vehicle sites, McGrath said.

The Coastal Conservancy’s meeting will begin with a tour of Avila Beach and Port San Luis from 1 to

5 p.m., Wednesday. The tour will begin at the harbor’s Coastal Gateway Building, and will include stops at the Harbor Terrace project site, the Point San Luis Lighthouse and Cave Landing.

The tour is open to the public, but participants must make a reservation by 4 p.m., Monday by emailing tduff@scc.ca.gov.

The business portion of the meeting starts at 9 a.m., Thursday at the Coastal Gateway Building, 3900 Avila Beach Drive, Avila Beach. The campground grant is one of the first items on the agenda.

The California Coastal Conservancy works with other government agencies, individuals and the private sector to fund coastal preservation and enhancement projects. Since it was formed in 1976, it has funded more than $1.5 billion in such projects. It has a staff of about 75 and an annual budget of $50 million.