Park board hires project manager

The Bend Park & Recreation District has hired a new project manager to tackle the Mirror Pond silt situation.

Jim Figurski started last week, said Don Horton, executive director of the park district. One of his chief tasks will be figuring out the future of Mirror Pond.

For the past decade Figurski was with GreenWorks, a landscape architecture and environmental design firm in Portland, said Mike Faha, principal at the company. Before that he worked for Portland Parks and Recreation for 10 years.

Figurski was a project manager and then technical director for GreenWorks, Faha said. His projects include Tanner Springs Park, a wetland in Portland’s Pearl District, and the Confluence Project, a series of art-based parks along the Columbia River designed by Maya Lin. Lin also designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

He is well versed with “complicated, high-profile projects,” Faha said, particularly those that require permits from a variety of local, state and federal agencies. Figurski could not be reached Friday for comment.

“He’s very experienced and well-seasoned,” Faha said. “Bend parks is lucky to have him.”

Since late 2010, the Mirror Pond Steering Committee has been meeting regularly to discuss silt buildup in the pond. The committee is composed of city and park district officials, along with Bill Smith, a Bend developer whose company owns the dam upstream of the pond; an official from Pacific Power, which owns the dam creating the pond; and a member of the civic group Bend 2030.

The city and park district have pledged $200,000 toward finding a solution for Mirror Pond.

Silt is collecting in the pond, forming mud flats that could degrade water quality in the river. The focus has been on the possibility of dredging the pond, which is estimated to cost from $2 million to $5 million.

Figurski will be doing public outreach to find out what Bend residents want to see done with the pond, said Mel Oberst, director of community development for the city and member of the pond steering committee.

“His first task will be to put together a work program,” Oberst said.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

Deschutes River seasonal flooding

SUNRIVER — After the Deschutes River spread onto his property last summer, Tim Curtin made plans to have a dozen dump-truck loads of dirt dropped onto his yard next spring to raise it and keep water off.

But Curtin, like many south Deschutes County residents, thinks there’s also work to be done in the river to prevent further seasonal flooding.

“There has to be a solution,” said Curtin, 67, who has lived along the river for 13 years in the River Meadows neighborhood.

His home is on a 6½-mile stretch of river — between the South Century Drive Bridge and the mouth of the Little Deschutes River — that has been prone to flooding in recent years.

 

The Upper Deschutes River is a regulated river, fed by releases from Wickiup Reservoir, said Jeremy Giffin, Deschutes Basin watermaster for Oregon Water Resources. In sending water down the river, the state is meeting the demands of farmers and ranchers downstream of Bend who hold water rights.

Last summer, the river extended onto riverfront properties south of Sunriver as the state ramped up flows to meet irrigation demands. Wednesday night, about 50 people showed up at a meeting where county, state and federal officials talked about the river.

Summertime releases aren’t particularly higher than what they’ve been for decades.

However, a buildup of silt and aquatic weeds could be causing the water level in the river to rise in recent years, Giffin said.

“I think there is a bigger, underlying issue here, and that is that the river is changing up there,” he said.

Dredging or weed thinning could be done to lower the level of the river, Giffin said.

Before doing such work, property owners would have to apply for permits with the Department of State Lands, the Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps, said Kyle Gorman, region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department. The stretch of river is under a federal Wild and Scenic designation, which could restrict in-water work.

“It would be some big hurdles to do something like that,” Gorman said.

The situation is similar to the buildup of silt in Mirror Pond in Bend, said Carl Jansen, board president for the Upper Deschutes River Coalition. The coalition represents neighborhoods along the river south of Bend.

While the Mirror Pond Steering Committee, which includes officials with the city and park district, is leading research into the possible dredging of the pond, such a group hasn’t been established for the Upper Deschutes River.

For now the coalition will at least keep the conversation going. The Upper Deschutes River Coalition plans to take up the summertime flooding issue at a meeting later this year, said Jeff Wieland, co-chair of the coalition’s watershed committee. He said finding a solution could be a long process.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

Landmark Bend willow falls

Neighborhood residents and a Bend police officer look over damage that occurred Tuesday afternoon when a large willow tree tumbled into the Deschutes River off Northwest Riverfront Street upriver from the Galveston Street bridge. Photo by Rob Kerr / The Bulletin

A prominent willow tree along the Deschutes River in Bend tumbled into the water Tuesday.

“It’s a terrible, sad thing,” said Ellen Waterston, who lives across the river from where the tree fell. “She was just the mother of this river.”

The willow stood on the east bank of the Deschutes, behind homes on Northwest Riverfront Street. People floating the river regularly would grab onto its branches and roots as they drifted past, said Waterston, a poet and author.

“It was just an absolutely beautiful, enormous willow,” she said.

The downed tree blocked nearly half of the river just upstream of the Galveston Avenue bridge. The willow was a Bend icon of sorts, said Pam Stevenson, 50, who owns part of the land where the tree once stood.

“I can’t tell you how many thousands of people enjoyed floating under it and enjoyed relaxing in the shade of the tree,” she said.

Over the last two summers, the willow was also the sight for small concerts Stevenson said she hosted in her backyard, often as fundraisers.

Stevenson said she wasn’t sure what caused the tree to fall around 3:30 p.m. “It ripped out at the roots and fell into the river.”

Waterson and Stevenson both said they didn’t see the tree fall, but did hear the crash and splash.

“(I) came out and there it was, in the river,” said Stevenson, who has lived along the river for 12 years.

She had named the tree after her dog Popcorn, a corgi and and Jack Russell mix that died at age 15 in 2000 and was buried under the tree.

A wooden sign on the tree marked it as “Popcorn’s Willow” and gave warning earlier this summer that the tree was starting to swoon. Stevenson said the once-level sign showed a definite slant.

Hoping to halt its droop, Wade Fagen, a tree specialist with Fagen Tree Service and Wood Chips, said he planned to trim the willow branches this winter when it would be dormant.

After examining the fallen tree Tuesday afternoon, Fagen said the tree appeared to have been scarred at some point, which caused it to rot.

“The roots are all rotten,” he said.

The tree appeared to be about 50 years old, but Fagen said he won’t know for sure until he cuts into it.

Stevenson said she planned to discuss with Fagen how to remove the tree. Fagen said doing so could be a challenge. Removing the tree may require floating it down the river.

Before that happens, Pam Hardy, 44, a friend of Stevenson, said they plan to take cuttings from the willow and use them to plant new trees along the river — including one in the spot where Popcorn’s Willow used to stand.

“This tree will live on,” she said.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

Mirror Pond committee still unsure

The Mirror Pond Steering Committee has $200,000 it must use to determine how to handle silt build-up in Bend’s signature body of water.

The City of Bend and the Bend Park & Recreation District each put up $100,000 in the last month to fund the search for a silt solution, said Mel Oberst, director of community development for the City of Bend.

“What are we going to do with it?” Oberst asked the committee at a Monday meeting.

The committee is composed of representatives from the city and the park district, as well as William Smith Properties, Inc., which owns the dam upstream from the pond; Pacific Power, which owns the dam creating the pond; and Bend 2030, a civic group. In the one-hour session, the committee decided it will start by pricing how much it would cost to have drawings made of each of the options for the pond and investigating the cost of permits needed from state and federal agencies to dredge the pond.

The options being weighed by the steering committee include not removing the silt, removing the dam that creates the pond, or dredging the pond.

Silt collects in Mirror Pond, forming mudflats that clog the pond on the Deschutes River.

While dredging is the apparent solution, there are many challenges.

They include finding a funding source for the project, which will likely cost between $2 million and $5 million.

The park district considered allotting $425,000 for a study on dredging the pond as part of its November bond measure, but cut it in June.

The city and the district then put up the $200,000 to be used on Mirror Pond.

To move forward, the committee also must earn the approval of the owners of the land under the pond.

The McKay family, one of the pioneer families of Bend, owns about 90 percent of the land under Mirror Pond, Oberst said.

In looking at how to handle the silt problem, the committee will evaluate whether the city or the district should buy the land. Before those discussions got too far Monday, Bill Smith — who developed the Old Mill District — said the steering committee should reach out to the McKay family. Smith’s company also owns the Colorado Avenue Dam, just upstream of Mirror Pond.

“We should get a feeling from the McKays (of) what they are willing to do,” Smith said.

Oberst is doubtful either the city or the district wants to buy the property. The committee is planning to reach out to the public to gauge its sentiment about the future of the pond.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

Mirror Pond dam passes inspection

A state dam inspector examined Mirror Pond dam Friday and found no immediate causes for concern in the century-old structure just downstream of the Newport Avenue Bridge.

“For an old dam of this size, it is in a condition you would expect it to be,” said Keith Mills, dam safety officer for the Oregon Water Resources Department.

He spent about an hour on and around the dam, photographing it and taking notes. PacifiCorp, a Portland-based power company, owns the small hydroelectric dam.

The dam was due for a regular state inspection.

The dam creates Mirror Pond, the signature waterway of Bend that is subject to ongoing discussion about how to remedy its silt buildup. One of the options mentioned in the talks among stakeholders is removing the dam and reopening the river, although city officials have said draining Bend’s icon is highly unlikely.

Along with creating Mirror Pond, the dam produces about one megawatt of electricity, enough power to supply about 500 homes, according to PacifiCorp.

The company plans to keep the dam, and power production, in place “as long as it is in the economic interest of our customers,” said Bob Gravely, PacifiCorp spokesman. Friday’s inspection didn’t reveal anything to change the company’s stance.

While the federal government regulates large power dams, like the Pelton Round Butte dam complex on the Deschutes near Madras or the dams on the Columbia River, the Water Resources Department keeps tabs on small power producers and irrigation water diverters. The inspections are done every three years.

The dam was one of seven that Mills, who works out of Salem, inspected this week during a trip through Central Oregon. After finding no reasons for immediate repairs he said he will now further review his photographs and compile a report on the dam by the end of the year.

PacifiCorp is involved with both the Mirror Pond Management Board and the Mirror Pond Steering Committee, which are groups of stakeholders trying to determine what to do about silt buildup in the pond. The silt is creating ever-growing mud flats, clogging the Deschutes River as it passes through Mirror Pond.

Along with the power company, the city and the Bend Park & Recreation District, the stakeholders include neighborhood associations, watershed restoration groups and William Smith Properties, which owns the Colorado Avenue dam upstream of the pond.

In 1984 the solution was to dredge the pond at a cost of $312,000. A 2009 study estimated dredging would now cost between $2 million and $5 million. Recent discussions have centered on how to fund further study of a dredging project.

Last month an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fish biologist told stakeholders that fish would benefit from the removal of the dam and the reopening of the river. City and Park & Recreation officials rebuffed the idea.

At the time, Bend City Manager Eric King said it would be hard to find support for the removal of the dam and the end of Mirror Pond.

“I think Mirror Pond is an iconic symbol of Bend,” he said.

PacifiCorp will stay involved in the larger talks and work with the stakeholders to decide how to tackle the silt situation, Gravely said.

“That’s not going to be a company decision,” he said. “That is going to have to be something that the community is heavily involved in.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

Related: Dam Inspection for Mirror Pond Dam 2012

Mirror Pond’s future still unclear

While a state wildlife official has said removing the dam that creates Mirror Pond would be a permanent solution to sediment buildup in Bend’s signature body of water, members of a board trying to determine what to do about the clogged pond say that’s not going to happen.

State and federal wildlife managers, as well as state land, water and environmental officials, met with the Mirror Pond Management Board earlier this month. At the meeting, Mike Harrington, assistant district fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Bend, told the board that fish would benefit from reopening the stretch of the Deschutes River known as Mirror Pond.

“I think that would be the best option for everyone,” he said in a telephone interview after the meeting. “You won’t have to dredge the pond on a periodic basis.”

Those involved in the project want to keep Mirror Pond, though, said Don Horton, executive director of the Bend Park & Recreation District.

“It’s been an icon of Bend for 100 years,” he said.

Finding support for the removal of the dam and the demise of Mirror Pond would be a major challenge, said Bend City Manager Eric King.

“I think Mirror Pond is an iconic symbol of Bend,” he said.

Since summer 2009, the management board — which includes leaders from the city of Bend, the Park & Recreation District, Pacific Power, neighborhood associations and watershed restoration groups — has been meeting about how to address the sediment situation in the pond. There is also a separate Mirror Pond Steering Committee, started in November 2010, which is tasked with developing and implementing a long-term plan for dealing with the silt in the pond. The board advises the committee, which has members from many of the same groups.

Pacific Power and Light, which is now Pacific Power, built a small power dam in downtown Bend in 1910 and created Mirror Pond. Silt regularly collects in the pond, creating mud flats that degrade the water quality in the river. Dredging has been the solution in the past. The last time the pond was dredged, in 1984, it cost $312,000. A 2009 study estimated that dredging would now cost between $2 million and $5 million.

The key questions remain: Who would pay for the further study of dredging, and who would pay for the dredging itself?

“That’s the crux of the Mirror Pond issue,” said Ryan Houston, executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council. Houston is on the management board. “It’s not very clear whose responsibility it is to fix it and what the fix is.”

Before his nonprofit group supports any plans for the pond, be it dredging or dam removal, there needs to be an understanding of the costs and benefits of the options, he said.

The Park & Recreation District was considering a $425,000 Mirror Pond dredging study among its project list for a November bond measure, but removed it last week.

Without the possible bond to support the study, those involved in the Mirror Pond talks are again considering putting the formation of a special taxing district on the November ballot. The district would collect taxes to fund the study.

As the discussion continues, Portland-based PacifiCorp, the parent company of Pacific Power, doesn’t have any plans to remove the dam, said Angela Jacobson, regional community manager for Pacific Power.

“PacifiCorp plans to continue to operate the Bend hydro facility as long it is the interest of our customers,” she said.

The dam helps the power company create about one megawatt of power, which produces enough electricity to supply about 500 homes, according to the company.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012