Dam inspection report under wraps

Apr 16, 2014

Bend Bulletin

Dam inspection report under wraps

Bend park officials say PacifiCorp to decide on disclosure

By Hillary Borrud

Bend Park & Recreation District officials say they will let the utility company that owns Mirror Pond dam decide whether the public gets to see a taxpayer-funded inspection report on the structure .

At least on the surface, that decision appears to be at odds with how city councilors and utility company officials want to proceed. In fact, each party involved has a different idea on how the park district should handle the report. A PacifiCorp spokesman said the decision on whether to release the report is up to the park district, while two city councilors involved in the process said on Monday the report is part of an important community discussion and should be released to the public. PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said the utility would like to see the report and possibly redact sections of it before the public would see it.

The park district, a government agency that is separate from the city of Bend, hired Phoenix, Ariz.-based contractor Gannett Fleming Inc. to inspect the dam on the Deschutes River last month and provide an independent opinion of its condition. The inspection is supposed to provide crucial information on future dam maintenance costs for city councilors and park district officials, who are negotiating to acquire the dam from owner PacifiCorp.

The park district will pay $23,500 for the inspection and report, Mirror Pond Project Manager Jim Figurski wrote in a recent email. However, Figurski and park district Executive Director Don Horton wrote in emails that because they signed a nondisclosure agreement with PacifiCorp, the utility has the legal right to decide whether the district can release the report. Figurski and Horton declined to provide a copy of the report to The Bulletin without permission from PacifiCorp.

City Councilor Mark Capell said on Monday that because this is an independent inspection report on the dam, it should not contain any of PacifiCorp’s proprietary information. Capell and City Councilor Victor Chudowsky are both members of the Mirror Pond ad hoc committee, a group that includes park board members and citizens and is tasked with deciding the future of Mirror Pond.

“In my opinion, the community needs the information to make a good decision,” Capell said. “So it’s information that needs to be released.”

Chudowsky agreed. “I think the main thing is the community needs to know whether we’re taking over an asset or a liability, and how big that asset or liability is,” Chudowsky said. “It’s critical information, absolutely critical.”

Last fall, the century-old dam sprang a leak and after PacifiCorp conducted its own inspection, company officials said repairs at the hydroelectric project would be too costly to pencil out for their ratepayers. It was the third leak in five years at the dam. Then in February, the utility company changed course and agreed to repair the leak. A PacifiCorp spokesman said in February that the utility estimated the repairs would cost $250,000.

Gannett Fleming has written a report on its inspection of the dam. However, Horton wrote in an email that in his opinion, the inspection report is not yet complete. “I reviewed it late last week and will be asking the consultants to clarify some of their findings,” Horton wrote in the April 7 email. Horton did not say what he asked the consultants to clarify .

The nondisclosure agreement, which names the park district as a potential purchaser of the dam and the city of Bend as an interested party, states that documents created with confidential information from PacifiCorp can only be released with the utility’s consent. It’s unclear at this point whether there is any confidential information from PacifiCorp in the inspection report.

Gravely confirmed last week that the utility wants to see the report before the public does.

“I think ultimately they own the report, so it will be their decision,” Gravely said of the park district. However, he said, the utility company does want to review the park district’s report before it is released to the public and might ask the district to redact sections of it.

“I think the only thing we would want to do first is to make sure there’s no commercially sensitive, confidential information that was provided under the nondisclosure agreement,” Gravely said. “We wouldn’t have a problem with the report itself being released and that would ultimately be their decision.”

Gravely said PacifiCorp employees have not yet seen the report, so he did not know what type of information the utility would consider to be commercially sensitive and want to redact.

Gravely said PacifiCorp executives have not met with local officials since December to negotiate the possible transfer of dam ownership because officials were waiting to learn the findings of the inspection.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829, hborrud@bendbulletin.com

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