Marina dispute on Arizona’s second-largest lake intensifies

The development of a $20 million marina on Arizona’s Lake Pleasant likely will face delays because of litigation from the owner of a rival marina, according an article published in today’s Arizona Republic.

The dispute hinges on whether or not Maricopa County properly chose the builder and operator of a second marina at Lake Pleasant, the paper reported. After county supervisors approved the privately financed project in December, Illinois-based Skipper Marine Development and other investors were handed the deal to build and manage the 146-acre Scorpion Bay Marina & Yacht Club that will be home to hundreds of boat slips, a waterfront restaurant, business center and convenience store, according to The Republic.

Earlier this year, a county Superior Court judge threw out an appeal by the rival marina that challenged the county’s handling of the bidding process. Lawyers for Pensus Group, the Phoenix-based investment firm that owns and operates the 13-year-old Pleasant Harbor Marina, have appealed that decision to a state appellate court. Meanwhile, another Pensus lawyer, who formerly served as the Bureau of Reclamation’s chief of staff, is reportedly raising the issue with federal officials. Because the park sits on federal land, the Bureau of Reclamation – the arm of the U.S. Department of the Interior that manages regional dams, power plants and canals – still needs to give its stamp of approval.

In an 18-page letter to the bureau, Washington, D.C.-based attorney Steven Richardson contends that a clause in the county’s request for proposals for Scorpion Bay violated federal laws that require full and open competition. The provision reportedly banned Pensus and other potential bidders that had any business interests next to or around the park.

“For us, not being able to bid was unfortunate,” Pleasant Harbor’s VP of operations Cris McSparen told The Republic. “It just sat wrong with everyone.”

The county, which runs Lake Pleasant Regional Park in far north Peoria, denies any wrongdoing. Assistant County Manager Bill Scalzo, who heads the Parks and Recreation Department, told The Republic that the competition clause was included to prevent the monopolization of boating services at the lake.

The Bureau of Reclamation is said to be addressing comments from Pensus, the city of Peoria and others in a preliminary environmental review that is supposed to be released later this month, according to the article. After local agencies and residents comment on the draft document, the bureau is supposed to determine if a more in-depth review is needed or if the project can move forward.

Last year, the park reportedly tallied 586,235 visitors, and that number is expected to climb over the 600,000 mark for 2006. The county’s 35-year agreement with Scorpion Bay ensures the county will receive at least $4 million in revenue over the life of the deal.

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