OAKHURST — While officials from Madera County and Cal Trans continue to work out the details of a formal plan to connect the town’s three new hotels to the main sewer line beneath Highway 41, negotiations are currently taking place that could allow one of the hotels to open later this year using the existing sewer system infrastructure.
“We’re doing everything we can to work with the developer right now,” said Eric Fleming, Madera County’s chief administrative officer. “We’re as anxious as anyone to get this done and see the TOT [transient occupancy tax] revenues start coming in.”
Fleming confirmed that a temporary agreement that would allow the developer to connect the northernmost of the three hotels, which will be a Holiday Inn Express, to the existing sewer line is a “real possibility.”
“The existing sewer line has the capacity to handle one of the hotels,” Fleming said Tuesday.
The Holiday Inn Express is the closest of the three hotels to completion.
The hotel in the middle will be a Fairfield Inn and the southernmost of the three properties will be a Hampton Inn.
Each of the hotels will feature 108 guest rooms. Furniture for the rooms is already on site and currently being stored in the large containers lining Highway 41.
The project developer, Paul Patel, turned over day-to-day oversight of the construction at the beginning of the year to a local management company called Foothills Hospitality Group.
Julius Wilson, vice president of Foothills, said this week the three new hotels, once open, will immediately start “contributing jobs and providing more tourism dollars flowing into the local economy.”
“Right now, the Holiday Inn Express is scheduled for a September first opening to be followed by Fairfield Inn by Marriott in October and the Hampton Inn by Hilton in December 2019,” Wilson said on Wednesday, July 3.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler acknowledged earlier this week that “a lot of recent progress” has been made at the hotels’ construction site.
“I think it’s possible at least one hotel could be open this year,” Wheeler said.
The three new hotels, under construction since 2014, are expected to create at least 100 new local jobs — and add $1.5 to $2 million a year in TOT revenues for the county.
“At this point, it’s clearly in everybody’s best interest that these hotels are completed and open for business as soon as possible,” Fleming said.
The ambitious project has encountered a series of setbacks over the years.
The most recent delay has involved hooking up the hotels to Oakhurst’s main sewer line, which the developer has already paid the county more than $2 million in fees to connect.
Cal Trans originally approved a plan that would have allowed the developer to hook up the three hotels to the sewer line via a construction technique called “burst pipe” installation.
Pipe bursting is a trenchless sewer repair method that involves breaking and expanding the existing buried sewer line while simultaneously replacing it with new, high-density polyethylene pipes. The technique has less impact to the construction site and also does not require the use of added chemicals or other contaminants.
But since the permit Cal Trans issued for the burst-pipe work expired late last year, the state agency is now insisting the three hotels’ sewer line connection be completed through a more involved and costly “open trench” installation.
County officials continue to meet with Cal Trans to determine how best to move forward with the sewer connection work. “There are still some issues we’re trying to work out,” Jared Carter, Madera County’s deputy director of public works, said last week.