Mirror Pond survey unveiled

July 16, 2013
Mirror Pond survey unveiled

Respondents split on dam question

By Hillary Borrud

Local officials had a first look Monday at the results of a survey on the future of Mirror Pond.

Anyone who hoped for a clear picture of how the community wants the pond to look in the future might be disappointed. People who completed the survey still fundamentally disagree about whether to keep the pond or return this section of the Deschutes River to its natural, free-flowing state.

Nearly 47 percent of survey respondents want to remove the Newport Avenue dam that created Mirror Pond, and roughly 43 percent want to keep the dam, according to the results of an unscientific community survey, said Project Manager Jim Figurski.

The survey results show that “the Mirror Pond issue is a polarizing issue," Figurski said.

He provided an overview of the survey results to the Mirror Pond Management Board on Monday, in advance of today’s joint meeting of the Bend City Council and Bend Park & Recreation District Board of Directors. The meeting also became a forum for members of the management board to press a representative of Pacific Power, which owns the Newport Avenue dam, for information on how long the company plans to maintain the dam.

Some members of the board said it will be impossible for officials to commit to spending millions of dollars to deal with silt buildup in the pond, without knowing how long the dam will remain in place. As long as Pacific Power owns the dam, the company is responsible for maintenance and — if it decides to remove the dam — the cost to do so, Figurski said.

Figurski said more than 1,200 people filled out the online questionnaire, and nearly 70 filled out forms at public meetings on the pond options. The questionnaire asked people to rate several options, including doing nothing, dredging sediment from the pond, and rerouting the river channel and removing the dam.

Today marks the end of the second phase of the Mirror Pond outreach process, when Figurski presents the survey results to the City Council and Bend Park & Recreation District Board of Directors. In the third phase, the council and board of directors plan to identify their preferred option for the future of Mirror Pond by the end of September. Park district Director Don Horton said the ultimate decision on Mirror Pond’s future will lie with whoever pays for it: local officials if the city or park district pays for a project, or the voters if officials ask them to approve a new tax district or bond measure.

Ryan Houston, executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, on Tuesday cautioned against reading too much into survey results in which the majority opinion depends upon a margin of a couple of percentage points. City Councilor Victor Chudowsky had similar concerns, and said the survey only reflected the views of people who cared enough about the issue to attend a meeting or complete the online questionnaire. Figurski agreed, but said a statistically valid survey would probably result in more responses from people who do not care about the issue or do not want to pay higher taxes for a Mirror Pond project.

The lack of agreement in the survey results also arose during the discussion of Pacific Power’s plans. Angela Jacobson Price, regional community manager for Pacific Power, said many people have asked Pacific Power when the company expects the dam will reach the end of its useful life.

“We don’t have a date," Price said.

Pacific Power will continue to operate its hydropower project at the dam as long as it makes financial sense for customers, Price said.

Houston then asked what Pacific Power needs from the community, to help the company decide the future of the dam.

Price responded, “I’m not sure I have a clear picture as to whether this community wants that dam out or not."

“We’re just being incredibly cautious that we don’t force a decision on this community ... and then say, ‘Live with it,’" Price said.

Bill Smith, the developer of the Old Mill District, said he supports keeping the dam. “We’ve been talking here like this is a very old dam," Smith said of the century-old structure. But, he said, there are still dams in France that were built by the Romans. “It’s not bound to fail. It could be here another 1,000 years if we take care of it."

Smith said local governments should ask voters to create a special tax district, with a new tax that will raise money to maintain the dam and Mirror Pond in the future.

Tod Heisler, executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy, said that the cost to dredge the Deschutes River is much higher than it was in the 1980s, and that projects will only grow more expensive in the future. “I just want to understand what those cost differences are, to keep it or remove it," Heisler said.

City Councilor Mark Capell said he has two goals for Mirror Pond: to keep the landmark beautiful, and reach a decision about its future so that leaders do not have the same conversation again in 25 years.

“If you look at what’s happened to costs in the last 30 years, and regulations in the last 30 years, it’s going to be incredibly painful," Capell said. “Unfortunately, it’s what the city has done for years. We continue to kick the can down the road on a lot of issues, and it’s important to stop doing that."

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

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