Poll shows support for dam removal

February 27, 2013
Poll shows support for dam removal

Mirror Pond neighbors prefer free-flowing Deschutes River

By Scott Hammers

Those living closest to Mirror Pond overwhelmingly support removing the Newport Avenue Dam and allowing the Deschutes River to return to its natural state, according to an online survey by the Old Bend Neighborhood Association.

Residents of Old Bend — the area South of Franklin Avenue, south and east of the Deschutes River, north of Arizona Avenue and west of the Bend Parkway — preferred dam removal over maintaining the pond by a margin of 2 to 1, according to neighborhood association board member Spencer Dahl.

Those living in the River West neighborhood west of Mirror Pond were nearly as supportive of dam removal, Dahl said, while survey respondents from other Bend neighborhoods or outside of Bend were split roughly 50-50.

Dahl said although the survey of 300 self-selecting respondents is not scientific, he suspects it’s largely reflective of sentiment in his neighborhood.

“Our neighborhood has a lot of old hippies and river rats and stuff, so it’s not your typical Bend, but it is the neighborhood that’s going to be most affected by it," he said.

The dam just north of Newport Avenue, more than 100 years old, provides power for fewer than 500 homes.

Pacific Power, the utility that operates the dam, has indicated it may be unwilling to continue operating the dam should increasing maintenance costs render it financially infeasible.

Those who responded to the neighborhood association survey described themselves as frequent visitors to Mirror Pond and the adjacent parks, with 7 percent claiming to visit daily and 35 percent at least once a week.

Respondents spend a lot of time in the water as well: 43 percent said they float the river, 31 percent reported boating and 14 percent said they’ve gone stand-up paddleboarding on Mirror Pond.

However, there are divisions among the larger paddling community. Survey respondents who kayak were much more likely to support dam removal, a move that would allow the river to flow faster, Dahl said, while stand-up paddleboarders were inclined to prefer calmer waters as seen on present-day Mirror Pond.

Dahl also represents his neighborhood on the 19-member Mirror Pond Management Board, a group assembled by the Bend City Council in 2009. The group advises the smaller Mirror Pond Steering Committee, which was created in 2010 to develop a long-term strategy to address silt accumulation in the pond. Dahl said he regards the survey as a way of supplying him with better information about his neighbors’ preferences when dealing with the steering committee.

The steering committee expects to release the results of its own online questionnaire on Thursday, according to Jim Figurski, a project manager hired by the Bend Park & Recreation District to work with the steering committee.

Figurski said Tuesday he hadn’t reviewed the findings of the Old Town Neighborhood Association survey. He said he’s interested in learning more about the audience reached by the survey, but not surprised to learn of the strong support for a dam-free river.

“Nothing about the project currently surprises me," Figurski said. “There’s always something new coming out or something interesting happening, it doesn’t surprise me a lot."

The steering committee’s questionnaire closed Monday night, and primarily addressed recreational preferences and the “values" — such as clean water, wildlife habitat and scenic views — that local residents associate with Mirror Pond.

Figurski said 1,858 people completed the questionnaire, which, like the survey conducted by the neighborhood association, was self-selecting and should not be regarded as statistically valid.

Beginning next month, Figurski and the steering committee will develop four alternative plans to address the siltation issue. The two “bookends," as Figurski has called them, will likely include one proposal for dam removal and one for dredging that would maintain the pond in a state similar to what’s seen today. The questionnaire will help inform the two middle ground alternatives, Figurski said, which could both lean toward either the dredging or dam removal option, depending on what the public had to say.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com

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