by GREGG MORRIS CBN Feature Writer
There are few Central Oregon landmarks that illustrate the region’s beauty like Mirror Pond. Highlighting Bend’s downtown area while being the focal point for boating and floating, Mirror Pond’s status as an environmental icon is firmly established. Recent years, however, have thrust the waterway into heated public discussion. Accumulating silt, low water levels and a leak in PacifiCorp’s Mirror Pond Dam have changed its look as various groups work to provide plans on how best to manage the impoundment of the Deschutes River.
To that end, City Club of Central Oregon invited three speakers to represent three different solutions to their March forum. The hour and a half discussion was held last Thursday, March 20, at St Charles Center for Health and Learning. Speakers included Bend City Councilor Victor Chudowsky; David Blair, who acted as a representative for an informal group of Mirror Pond supporters and Ryan Houston, executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council. City Club board member David Rosell moderated the event. Each speaker laid out a case under consideration by the Mirror Pond Ad Hoc Committee, a group consisting of representatives of the city of Bend, the Bend Park & Recreation District and the general public. See sidebar for committee members on page 37.
According to City Club, the purpose of this forum was, “to give attendees a better idea as to what aesthetic, recreational, environmental, financial, logistical and legal issues are raised by each alternative.”
Bend City Councilor Chudowsky argued to work to keep Mirror Pond at its historic water level if financially viable. Blair, who sits on the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, laid out a hybrid plan to keep the level of the pond, and replace the dam with a new structure. Houston then described the ecological benefits of removing the dam and creating a free-flowing river.
Scott Wallace, who chairs the Bend Parks and Recreation District Board (BMPRD) and the Mirror Pond Ad Hoc Committee (MPAHC), opened the discussion with an overview of the construction of the dam and an update on the status of an independent inspection of the dam commissioned by the BMPRD and MPAHC. He indicated the inspection report, including repair cost estimates, would be completed by early April.
Chudowsky began his defense of keeping Mirror Pond as we know it by painting a picture of recreation life on the river. He told a story about first discovering Mirror Pond during a family vacation to Bend. He emphasized the fact that Mirror Pond is more than just a pretty view. Chudowsky estimated each summer 90,000 floaters and paddlers recreate on the river between the Old Mill District and Drake Park.
Chudowsky mentioned the narrowing of the river and quickening of the current, by removal of the dam, would change the way locals could enjoy the river. In addition, the inspection report would have to be carefully assessed to ensure the City of Bend does not assume a massive liability by acquiring the dam from PacificCorp.
Houston reiterated the choices facing the community on Mirror Pond center around economics. Residents are essentially deciding whether preserving the pond is worth it and how much they are willing to pay. He argued the estimated $7 million price tag to remove the dam is cheaper than maintenance-requiring alternatives. But, it would radically alter the pond without substantial environmental benefits.
Houston said the environmental reason's case for removing the dam wasn’t a particularly strong one. He explained that of the 10 Deschutes River dams between the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River, the Mirror Pond dam would rank around eighth in terms of adverse affects on the river’s health.
Blair stressed that while the hybrid alternative calls for the removal of the dam, it wouldn’t need to resemble the current look of the Drake Park area of the river. This winter’s low water and the leak in the dam exposed wide mud flats on both shores. In addition to the removal of the dam, Blair’s proposal includes the construction of an upstream dam-like structure that allows floaters and paddlers to pass through. Also, downstream would see the river sculpted, while upstream a series of sediment traps could be built for easier sediment removal.
Blair also encouraged the community to focus on a decision of what it wants, and not get bogged down by the legislative process and regulatory hurdles sure to follow the decision.
When asked if the forum fulfilled its educational purpose, City Club Board President Bill Buchanan responded, “Absolutely. The forum allowed the community to freely discuss, and even disagree about, three alternatives in a productive manner.”
After the forum, each of the panelists were asked to provide a 30 word or less answer on how City Club members could further engage in the process of choosing a path for Mirror Pond.
Chudowsky replied, “anyone who would like to keep abreast of what is happening with Mirror Pond is welcome to attend meetings of the Ad Hoc Committee. Public input is encouraged.”
Blair responded, “ask your City Councilors to: (1) investigate two alternatives - the hybrid, and dam reconstruction, (2) display the short- and long-term costs of each alternative and (3) display the positive and negative aspects of
Houston said, “each alternative reflects a different combination of values. Regardless of which alternative you prefer, please get involved and make sure your voice is heard.”
Those wishing to take more action or learn more about Mirror Pond can visit one of several websites.
The Mirror Pond Steering Committee, Management Board, and Ad Hoc Committee maintains www.mirrorpondbend.com.
The Old Bend Neighborhood Association group maintains www.mirrorpond.info.
City Club of Central Oregon, established in 2007, currently has 225 members who work on, “improving the tenor of communication throughout central Oregon, informing the public and inspiring civic engagement.”
Forums are chosen by City Club’s Programs Committee several months in advance, with a program lead who helps decide the format, moderator and potential panelists. For more information on City Club, including upcoming events and membership opportunities, visit www.cityclubco.org.
Mirror Pond Steering Committee
The Mirror Pond Steering Committee is a, “collaborative decision-making and oversight body for the Mirror Pond Visioning Project, which was established to develop and implement a long-term strategy to address the accumulated silt deposits in Mirror Pond.”
Currently sitting on the committee are BMPRD’s Dan Horton, Pacific Power’s Angela Price, Bill Smith of Old Mill District, City of Bend’s Mel Oberst and Bend 2030’s Matt Shinderman.
Established in 2009, the Mirror Pond management board, “is an independent citizen advisory committee formed to advise the Mirror Pond Steering Committee (MPSC) and City Council on the project’s proceedings.”
Current members include Deschutes Basin’s Board of Control’s Steve Johnson, Downtown Bend Business Association’s Chuck Arnold, Horton, Houston, Old Bend Neighborhood Association’s Michael Olin, Bend resident Reagan Desmond and Bill Olsen, Oberst, Deschutes River Conservatory’s Tod Heisler, River West Neighborhood Association’s Leslie Olsen, Chudowsky, Bend City Councilor Mark Capell, City of Bend Planning Commission’s Peter Werner and Bend Chamber of Commerce’s David Rosell.
The Mirror Pond ad-hoc work group’s purpose is to, “work with project staff and consultants to investigate unanswered questions identified in previous project phases.”
Members include Horton, BMPRD’s Scott Wallace and Ted Schoenborn, Capell, Oberst, Shinderman and public members Ned Dempsey and Mike Olin.
The ad-hoc group, in cooperation with the steering committee and management board, will present its findings to the Bend City Council and the BMPRD Board. Any timeline is based upon a collection of facts, reports and public opinion. 2016 is the 10 year estimated deadline set by the Mirror Pond Technical Committee. The committee is currently in its third and final phase of evaluation.
While Mirror Pond rests entirely within Bend city limits, the BMPRD is the largest landowner along the river. Therefore, the group in charge of any action taken, and subsequent costs involved, has yet to be decided upon.