Inching Closer To A Mirror Pond Resolution

December 6, 2019
Inching Closer To A Mirror Pond Resolution

Bend Park and Recreation District and the City of Bend set the framework of an MOU


At its December 3 Bend Park and Recreation District board meeting, local leaders once again took up the discussion of the future of Mirror Pond—the water feature in downtown Bend that has been accumulating silt since its last dredging decades ago.

Led by BPRD Executive Director Don Horton, Bend City Councilor Bruce Abernathy and Todd Taylor of Mirror Pond Solutions also joined Tuesday’s meeting.

In June, leaders from BPRD and the City agreed to develop a Memorandum of Understanding together to lay out the goals of the Mirror Pond dredging project and to update the 2015 Community Vision, which was the result of public meetings, surveys and oversight from the Mirror Pond Management Board and Ad-Hoc Committee.

The proposed MOU details the concept of a public process that will dictate the next steps for the beloved Bend landmark. This includes the task of dredging the pond, something that hasn’t happened since 1984. The goal of dredging is to remove sediment build-up from the bottom of the pond. According to City of Bend records, 60,000 cubic feet of material was removed in 1984, which was around 5 feet of depth.

For the future public process outlined in the MOU, the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council will take the lead, forming a committee to move forward with the possibility of dredging and other projects related to Mirror Pond. Invitees to the committee include the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, PacifiCorp, a fish ladder engineer, the City of Bend and BPRD. According to the current drafted MOU, the committee anticipates holding four to six meetings over a span of two to three months, which will probably start early next year. These meetings will be open to the public and have the option for public comment.

The current MOU outlines the following:

  • Recognition that the owner of Newport Dam (PacificCorp) has made the decision to retain the dam and to continue to generate power and that a part of the approval process must include landowner acceptance. (Any changes in the dam’s current state could alter future plans of dredging or fish passage.)
  • An alternate to the community vision of a dam modification that would have allowed for a more natural river-like structure in favor of an alternate fish passage method.
  • A general concept of what the fish passage will be.
  • A preliminary cost estimate for the provision of fish passage.
  • Recommendations of how to implement the preferred fish passage.
  • A suggested funding strategy to implement the project.

The question as to whether or not PacificCorp would maintain control of the dam has drawn a lot of speculation throughout the entire Mirror Pond process, now seems likely to have an answer.

“What I can tell you is the numerous conversations I’ve had with PacificCorp, they say they’re committed to keeping the dam and to continue to develop hydro-power. That part of their portfolio is to try and generate as much green energy as they can and this is a green-generating dam,” Horton said during the meeting. “For the foreseeable future they’re going to continue operating as they have in the past. And I also know that they are about to invest more into the dam to improve it. To me, that’s more indication that they’re moving towards continuing to generate more power.”

Community members may have seen the work PacificCorp was putting into the dam earlier this week, as water levels were sitting lower on Tuesday. During the meeting, BPRD Board Chair Ted Schoenborn noted the appearance of a crane operator on site as well.

Another key point in the MOU is the prospect of a possible fish passage, allowing fish to move more freely from one side of Newport Dam to the other. The proposed MOU suggests the resolution will opt in favor of some type of fish passage, but there is no set plan of design, funding or schedule of completion yet.

The City and Mirror Pond Solutions stressed during the board meeting to look at the Mirror Pond Resolution as not just one project, but rather a compilation of many separate projects all working toward the same goal—which points back to the seven goals left from the originally created 2015 Mirror Pond Vision: Retain Mirror Pond in near historic form, modify the dam to function more like a river, enhance habitat, enable fish passage, maintain or improve public spaces, reduce the frequency and quality of future sediment removal efforts and identify funding sources other than tax dollars.

BPRD has already started drawing design plans for bank improvements and the extension of the Deschutes River Trail, which Horton says will run from Portland Ave., through Pacific Park, around the Pacific Corp property, underneath the Newport bridge, through some private property by Mirror Pond and into Drake Park. This portion of the project is currently in the permitting stage. Horton says they anticipate getting permits in the next two to three months.

To further enhance habitat and reduce the frequency of sediment, the City has been developing a storm water management plan, looking directly at storm outfall pipe filtration, which is one of the main sediment sources in the pond.

And then there is the task of dredging the pond. Mirror Pond Solutions has already been given permitting for this phase of the project, which will technically have to be one of the first dominoes to fall.

“We’re on our second extension right now, and once you get your third extension, you’re at the risk of going back and re-applying. Preference would be not to re-apply again because it’s quite the process,” said Todd Taylor of MPS when asked about a potential dredging deadline. “I would say 2021—because next year would be our third extension.”

However, it’s clear that the concept of dredging still remains a controversial aspect to the overall vision.

“It’s really surprising to see such strong language in a proposed MOU that would appear to make dredging a foregone conclusion, and then not leave any opportunity for any reevaluations moving forward,” said Ariel Mendez, who joined the BPRD board this year. “I think it’s premature to start singling out certain elements when it doesn’t seem like that’s warranted.”

Some of the language in the proposed MOU has placed the Mirror Pond vision in an uncertain point of view for both Méndez and Jason Kropf, the two newest additions on the BPRD board. Because of this, the MOU draft will be reviewed by BPRD’s legal counsel and board members before it gets sent back to the City for signing. There was hope that the MOU would be signed and executed this month, but depending on the time of review and with the holiday season upon us, that execution may not take place until the beginning of next year.

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An aerial view of a body of water.