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Modesto Bee Archive

Hopes to build at Tulloch Lake stir an outcry


Last Updated: February 24, 2005, 04:00:01 AM PST

People in Stanislaus County could find it much easier to water ski, fish or even live at Tulloch Lake if developers build a new road connecting a vision for a massive subdivision to Highway 108-120.

But emerging plans for 2,110 homes, two marinas and a hotel on a barren stretch of the lake's northwest shore are drawing criticism from people who say more boats would sink the area's recreational appeal.

Still others say the road could ruin picturesque Knights Ferry and further choke traffic on the increasingly busy highway linking Modesto and Sonora.

Castle and Cooke Inc., which bought Saddle Creek Golf Course at nearby Copperopolis in 1999 and is building homes at other spots near Tulloch Lake, hopes to develop a hotel, bungalows and villas along 2½ miles of waterfront north of the reservoir's dam.

The community would stretch southwest over 3,778 acres, or about two-thirds of the way to Goodwin Dam on the wild north shore of the Stanislaus River.

"We're used to doing water homes," said Dave Haley, the firm's development director for Calaveras County projects. His company, he said, is buying the expanse from landowner Bob Brunker and hasn't decided whether to come up with a name other than Brunker Ranch.

To solve the problem of recreational overcrowding on Tulloch Lake, Castle and Cooke favors a controversial step: restricting vessel access to improve conditions for all users, Haley said.

Highway 4, connecting nearby Copperopolis to Stockton, would bear the brunt of increased vehicle traffic, Haley said. But he acknowledged the long-term idea of another road from Tulloch Lake through Knights Ferry and said Castle and Cooke would design it "in case that happens."

Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O'Brien, who represents that portion of the county, said, "No way."

People who cherish the sleepy atmosphere in Knights Ferry, known for its covered bridge reminiscent of a country lane, shouldn't have to endure thousands of cars chugging from Brunker Ranch each day, O'Brien said.

"It's completely unreasonable," he said. "The traffic is not coming from Knights Ferry. Why should the residents put up with it?"

Betty Rogers, who bought a home there four decades ago, said, "They will have a battle over that, I'll tell you that much."

It would be naive to think that Castle and Cooke hopes to build such a huge community without tapping Modesto's nearby labor market for potential commuters, said Lee Shearer of Knights Ferry.

But the influence of O'Brien and other policy-makers in Stanislaus County may be limited to the new road, because all the homes would be built in Calaveras County.

Too crowded to enjoy?

Victoria Erickson, the supervisor who represents that part of Calaveras County, said she is more concerned with the lake's overuse.

"I think we need to look at the fact that the more houses we build and the more docks we put in, the more people are going to be on the lake," Erickson said. "It's very, very crowded."

Tri-Dam, the irrigation agency that owns the lake, determined in a study that it can handle about 110 vessels at a given time. But the agency has counted upward of 170 on busy summer weekends and once resorted to a moratorium on new docks.

Tri-Dam directors have recommended rules permitting one new slip, or boat tie-up space, per 200 feet of shoreline for new projects, executive director Steve Felte said. That would provide Brunker Ranch with about 65 slips.

But Castle and Cooke would prefer two marinas, one with 15 to 20 slips and the other with 80 to 100, Haley said.

That would make an already crowded lake unbearable, said Jack Cox, a founder of the Lake Tulloch Homeowners Federation.

"It will basically destroy Lake Tulloch as a recreation area and natural resource, period," said Cox, a longtime advocate for an elusive regional planning approach for the small lake.

Tulloch Lake holds 67,000 acre-feet of water compared with 2.4 million acre-feet at nearby New Melones Reservoir, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

"They're talking about thousands more people and more pressure, and this lake can't handle it."

Haley agreed that other Tulloch developments have been poorly planned and said his firm "will do a better job" with Brunker Ranch. He said he intends to have an environmental impact report ready for public review in three to five months.

Castle and Cooke have shared their vision with Calaveras County's interim planning director, Haley said, but have yet to submit formal plans.

Restricted access proposed

Restricting access to the lake would guarantee that it never would become overcrowded, Haley said. His firm favors the idea of charging annual or per-launch fees which could pay for increased patrol.

Patrolling by Tuolumne and Calaveras sheriff's deputies is mostly restricted to busy weekends, Felte said.

But ultimate approval for new docks would rest with a federal agency, Felte said. People will get a chance to weigh in during public review periods, he said.

"Unfortunately, you get opposition to everything," Haley said. "We're trying to get ahead of the curve and do good planning."

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or gstapley@modbee.com



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