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Faced with a concessionaire contract set to expire by the end of the year and dilapidated infrastructure, local leaders have some tough choices to make regarding the Tecopa Hot Springs.
On Oct. 1 of this year, the contract with CLM Services Corporation, which operates the Tecopa Hot Springs and campgrounds, will expire. CLM has no plans to renew its contract with the county, leaving local leaders with the choice of seeking a new concessionaire, taking on operations at the hot springs itself, or closing the area altogether.
Inyo County Deputy Administrator Pam Hennarty met with the Board of Supervisors Tuesday to discuss a potential course for the site, which includes the hot springs, 250 camp sites and four restrooms.
Hennarty explained that the county leases the property, about 40 acres, which includes both the hot springs bath houses and the Tecopa Library, from the Bureau of Land Management for $80 a year. In turn, the county subleases the hot springs and camp sites to CLM, which handles maintenance and management.
â€śCLM thinks the facility is beyond its useful life,â€ť Hennarty said.
She added that maintenance has been an issue, and the site needs extensive work, regardless of who takes over operations. â€śWe met with Tecopa residents last fall, and they have some concerns about CLMâ€ť and how the company has managed the hot springs, Hennarty said.
County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio pointed out that the county may face the same issues Palo Alto-based CLM does, if it chooses to take over operation of the hot springs and campground, strictly due to distance.
Hennarty added that CLM has provided the county with a list of daily maintenance requirements for the facility, which adds up to a total of 3.5 to five hours of work a day. If it decides to take on management of the hot springs and campground, Hennarty said the county will have to pay an employee to handle that work.
Carunchio said it appears that CLM simply collected revenue from the site, without investing in its longevity. Now it wants out, leaving the county with the hard choices ahead.
On the bright side, Hennarty said that the county could see revenue from the operation, as residents and visitors are charged for use of the bath houses and camp site. Currently, Carunchio said, CLM charges $8 a person.
Hennarty said issuing an Request for Proposals for a new concessionaire is a viable option that wouldnâ€™t cost the county money and would provide revenue for the county, as Inyo receives a percentage of the profit from the site. However, with the bath houses and camp sites in need of repairs, it is unclear if anyone would respond to the offer.
She also said that the county would relinquish control of the site, which could lead to another absentee landlord like CLM.
â€śThe challenge with an RFP is itâ€™s like going through recruitment,â€ť Carunchio said. â€śCLM says thereâ€™s too much work to be done, but CLM maximized profit without putting anything back in.â€ť The county would want to avoid contracting with that kind of concessionaire in the future.
The last option would be to close the facility. Though that would be cost-neutral, the hot springs and campgrounds are a popular attraction.
Fifth District Supervisor Matt Kingsley said Tuesday that the springs were never designed to be a money maker for the county. Carunchio explained that the bath houses were operated by Tecopa community members for a number of years, and the county only got involved when disputes about maintenance and operations began in the 1970s.
â€śWeâ€™ve learned a lot in the last 20 years,â€ť First District Linda Arcularius said. â€śNothing has gotten better over the last 20 years. Itâ€™s gotten worse. Iâ€™m not sure if Iâ€™m interested in an RFP.â€ť
Arcularius asked if the county could make the facility more family-friendly, by removing the nude bathing requirements or other changes, to market the hot springs as a family destination.
Carunchio said that isnâ€™t likely.
Kingsley said that he would like to keep the facility operational, as it is important to the residents of Tecopa.
Hennarty met with residents in Tecopa after the board meeting to gather input. The outcome of that meeting will be reported on next week. She will also return to the board later this summer to discuss the future of the hot springs further.