Park district takes a first step

The Bend Park & Recreation District took a timid step toward putting a $31 million bond measure on the November ballot to develop large-scale projects and buy more land.

While the wish list hasn’t been finalized, some projects could include an ice rink, a passageway for floaters and boaters at the Colorado Avenue dam, upgrades to the Deschutes River Trail, and an analysis of how to address sedimentation buildup in Mirror Pond.

On Tuesday, the park district board of directors said it supported the idea of asking voters to approve a property-tax-funded bond measure, but admitted there’s still a lot of research to do.

“This is a very preliminary, very big, ugly, scary step,” Board Chairman Ted Schoenborn said. “Well, I shouldn’t say it’s ugly, but it is big and it is scary.”

The $31 million bond measure would be paid back through property tax assessments. According to district officials, an assessment for the average homeowner would be less than $50 a year.

In addition to a nearly $20 million list of possible construction and development projects, directors discussed an $11 million list of potential property acquisitions. That discussion took place during an executive session that was not open to the public.

If any land acquisitions were a part of a bond measure, Park District Executive Director Don Horton said that property information would almost certainly be revealed. In general, he said the district is looking at property that bolsters the Deschutes River trail system and add to the amount of open space that’s available, particularly for regional parks such as Shevlin Park.

Director Ruth Williamson expressed the most apprehension about the bond measure. She was concerned about whether it was the right economic climate and wanted to make sure the district was ready to undertake such an “ambitious” proposal.

“If we’re going to do this,” Williamson said, “we (need to) understand that we’re going to have to give this 150 percent, nothing less, to give this a chance.”

The park district last considered a bond measure in 2004. At that time, the district wanted a new tax to pay for a $25 million indoor recreational facility and pool on Bend’s west side similar to Juniper Swim & Fitness. The bond would also include $5 million to renovate the Juniper pool facilities.

Ultimately, district officials decided not to put that measure on the ballot. Survey results at that time showed there wasn’t much support among voters.

The district recently hired a firm to poll residents about whether they would support a new park district bond measure. The results were mixed, with some officials describing the support in terms of a traffic signal that’s stuck somewhere between yellow and green. There was also more support for conservation projects rather than the expansion of recreation facilities.

Based on these results, the survey firm told the park district that it would “clearly be challenging” to pass a bond measure, but “there does appear to be a path to success.”

The district has until September to craft ballot language for a bond measure. In the meantime, district officials said they will continue to look at the best way to approach a bond measure, and work with the community to come up with a project list they think would pass.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

Committee: Dredge Mirror Pond

First things first: Mirror Pond needs to be dredged. At least that’s what the people studying the sedimentation problem in the pond say.

Initially, officials wanted to analyze a range of possible fixes to the silt problem in Mirror Pond that included everything from doing nothing to removing two dams and allowing the Deschutes River to flow freely.

After learning that such a study would cost $500,000 and that no one was willing to pay for it, the steering committee created to guide this effort shifted its focus.

“Something has to be done to remove the sediment immediately, regardless of what we do in the long term,” said Matt Shinderman, who sits on the committee and is an Oregon State University-Cascades Campus natural resources instructor. “It’s already starting to get to a point where you’re going to have extensive mudflats and potential wetland vegetation coming in.”

Once that vegetation takes root, he said, it could become a lot more difficult to do any work in the pond, because federal wetland protections create more regulatory hurdles.

Silt has been accumulating at the bottom of Mirror Pond ever since Pacific Power & Light Co. built a hydroelectric dam near the Newport Avenue bridge in 1910. The last time it was dredged was in 1984, at a cost of $312,000.

The latest cost estimates for dealing with the pond’s sediment problem came in between $2 million and $5 million. Those figures were from a 2009 study.

As with the $500,000 alternatives analysis, no one has offered to pay for dredging Mirror Pond. The group looking into the issue includes the city of Bend, the Bend Park & Recreation District, Pacific Power, William Smith Properties Inc. and the nonprofit Bend 2030.

Two funding ideas have been floated recently. One is to form a permanent special taxing district. The other is to include a Mirror Pond fix in a one-time bond measure. In either case, it would be up to voters to decide.

Bend Park & Recreation District Executive Director Don Horton said the district is planning a survey that will ask residents if they would support either option for Mirror Pond. That survey, which is also gauging support for other possible bond measure projects, is expected to be sent out in a couple of weeks.

Horton noted that a bond measure would only provide a one-time source of funds, while a taxing district would supply money long-term. Like Shinderman, he said the immediate need is to dredge Mirror Pond first.

But Horton also highlighted the importance of an in-depth siltation study that would look at dam removal options and others — such as reconfiguring the shape of the pond — that would help cut down on the sedimentation.

“It’s kind of a two-stage process,” he said. “The first is to dredge the pond, and the second is to do a longer-term study of what needs to be done to the pond.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

New tax for Mirror Pond?

It might take a new — and possibly permanent — tax to prevent Bend’s 101-year-old Mirror Pond from becoming speckled with mud flats.

The manmade water feature, located downtown along Drake Park, has sedimentation problems caused by silt flowing down the Deschutes River and settling on the bottom of the pond.

After several years of false starts and delays, officials thought they were closing in on a possible fix to the problem. But as a consortium of local businesses and governments prepares to sign a contract to fully study the various alternatives, it has discovered another snag.

It doesn’t have any money. Not even enough to pay for the study.

“We’re at a juncture we knew we were going to come up against,” said Michael McLandress, the project manager hired to oversee the current Mirror Pond alternatives analysis. “This is the albatross we’re all trying to negotiate with. How do we find a funding mechanism that will create long-term sustainable funding for Mirror Pond?”

Now discussions have reverted to forming a special taxing district that would collect property taxes to pay for the upcoming study. That money would also be used to pay for whatever fix the study calls for, in addition to setting money aside for future Mirror Pond maintenance and projects.

“It’s still very early in the discussion stages, but the idea would be to have a Mirror Pond tax district on the May ballot,” McLandress said. “We are just trying to determine if that’s even feasible at this stage.”

McLandress was hired last year after the city of Bend, the Bend Park & Recreation District, Pacific Power, William Smith Properties Inc. and the nonprofit Bend 2030 all decided to pool some resources to do a proper analysis of what should be done to Mirror Pond.

That analysis would piggyback on a 2009 study and also include wide-ranging community input that would be combined with a scientific analysis of various options to remove sediment from the pond.

Those options could include anything from leaving the pond as it is and allowing it to fill with sediment to removing the Pacific Power dam near the Newport Avenue bridge and allowing the river to flow free.

Previous discussions have focused on dredging the pond, which was last done in 1984 at a cost of $312,000. The 2009 study estimated any future sedimentation solution could cost anywhere from $2 million to $5 million.

After receiving two proposals over the summer for a new alternatives analysis, the group decided it would hire Cascade Environmental Group of Portland. Though contract negotiations are ongoing, the current estimated cost of this study is around $540,000.

Even though the analysis was planned to be broken into two parts — with the first phase costing about $200,000 and the second coming in around $300,000 — McLandress said “it looks like we don’t even have the funding to get the entirety of the first phase going.”

One option he is looking at, however, is breaking apart the first phase into two more segments, with the first being the public outreach and community involvement portion. By doing that, he said, the project can at least continue to move forward while officials look for funding sources.

“This is the furthest we have ever gotten in this process,” McLandress said. “(But) there’s a budget there that we don’t have.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2011


Mirror Pond cleanup gets new boss

Michael McLandress of Brightwater Collaborative LLC was recently hired as the project manager for a Mirror Pond sediment removal project. Ryan Brennecke / The Bulletin

Officials from local government and the private sector recently teamed up to hire someone who they hope can find a solution to the long-standing sedimentation problem in Bend’s Mirror Pond.

The pond, which was created in 1910 after the construction of the Pacific Power and Light dam on the Deschutes River near Newport Avenue, is considered by many to be a crown jewel of downtown Bend.

But over the years, increased deposits of silt from upstream have essentially clogged the pond, creating shallow mud flats that have altered its aesthetic character while also contributing to water quality problems on the river.

To find a fix, the city of Bend, the Park & Recreation District, Pacific Power and the company behind the Old Mill District, William Smith Properties, pooled some money to pay for a project manager who will now study the problem and find out how much it would cost to hire someone to then analyze the various options to get rid of the sediment.

“We need someone to sort of carry the ball,” City Manager Eric King said. “None of us (has) the resources on our respective staffs to dedicate to this project.”

In November, the group, working through the nonprofit, Bend 2030, decided unanimously to hire Michael McLandress of Brightwater Collaborative LLC to spearhead the Mirror Pond sedimentation project over the next year.

McLandress has lived in Bend for the past six years, and before that was in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently, he was the construction project manager for the 67,000-square-foot Miller Elementary School in Bend that became the first Oregon school east of the Cascades to receive a gold certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“There was a consensus among the four funding partners that he was the best guy for the job,” King said. “He definitely has a project management background, which is what we were looking for, and he has kind of immersed himself in the community.”

The contract between Bend 2030 and Brightwater Collaborative LLC is for $44,100, and goes through the end of next year. As a part of the deal, McLandress will have to review and refine the cost estimates and scope of work outlined in a 2009 study that was prepared by the city, Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and Portland consulting firm ICF Jones & Stokes. That study found it could cost up to $5 million to finish work on a solution for Mirror Pond’s sedimentation issue.

While McLandress’ contract does not call for him to actually come up with the various solutions — which could range anywhere from dredging the pond to removing the Newport Avenue dam to doing nothing and letting nature take its course — he will be responsible for finding a firm to do that study. He will also be involved in finding the funds to perform that alternatives analysis, which some have estimated could cost up to $500,000.

Matt Shinderman, who is a Bend 2030 board member and professor of natural resources at Oregon State University-Cascades Campus, said the hefty cost of the alternatives analysis is one of the major reasons officials wanted to hire a third party like McLandress to scrutinize figures and come up with a refined budget. He added that even if McLandress’s review doesn’t change anything, it is warranted because it’s such a lofty project with a number of different facets.

“It’s just a really complicated project, and as much as I would like for there to be a neat and tidy solution, you’re dealing with almost 100 years of legacy there that you can’t make that go away,” Shinderman said. “I think the group is really interested in not rushing the process because it is highly visible. It’s a big deal, and I think there’s genuine interest in coming up with a long-term viable solution that kind of maximizes the net benefits.”

Perhaps the easiest, and certainly most visible, culprit of Mirror Pond’s sedimentation problem is the dam at the Newport Avenue Bridge. The dam slows the movement of the water and whatever sediment that might be in it, causing the sediment to build up along the edges of the pond. But studies have found there are a number of other factors leading to the high amount of sediment.

“It’s really a symptom of the problems upstream,” Shinderman said. “And it’s not just one problem.”

He said there are some places along the Deschutes River that have had the native vegetation removed or replaced by “turf grass.” The loss of that vegetation makes the banks unstable and causes erosion that deposits sediment in the river.

A much larger issue, however, is the management of the Wickiup Reservoir about 60 miles upstream, Shinderman said. Water released from the reservoir can have a dramatic impact on flows and discharge more sediment into the river depending on the season. According to the 2009 Mirror Pond study, water flows can vary by more than 1,500 cubic feet per second between summer and winter.

“The Mirror Pond group is not going to resolve those issues,” Shinderman said. “(But) what we would like to do is, through this process we would like to bring in all the various partners upstream. And as we’re doing this project, have them do projects upstream that will make this worthwhile.”

McLandress said he’s looking forward to undertaking such a complex project, and is especially excited about it since it’s one that will leave a lasting impression on the community where he now lives.

“Mirror Pond is such an iconic part of Bend that it begs to be fixed,” McLandress said. “This is the first time that we’re really coming to a great synergy in trying to solve the problem.”

One of the most important aspects of his job, he said, will be getting input from the public on what should be included in the scope of work for the alternatives analysis. Like Shinderman, he understands the complexities of the project and realizes a solution will likely involve stakeholders from throughout the region.

He also said he realized this won’t be easy, and with all the various stakeholders, might even involve some controversy.

“The trick is how as a community, based on our values and our changing social fabric, can we adapt to the change that’s happening in Mirror Pond and the change that has been occurring in Mirror Pond for generations,” McLandress said.

“Mother Nature has been altered, and she’s fighting back. We have to make a decision on how we want to adapt to the changes of the appearance of Mirror Pond and to what degree we want to pay for the fix to keep it as is or modify it so water flows faster through the pond and distributes the silt in a different way.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2010

Mirror Pond weeds get whacked

Andy Tullis / The Bulletin John Sarmiento operates an aquatic weed harvester to cut down some of the weeds near the Drake Park footbridge in Mirror Pond.

For the past several days, a large, paddle-wheeled oddity chugged back and forth along Mirror Pond, causing a number of people to pause as they crossed the Drake Park footbridge.

This strange white gizmo, as one passer-by described it, moved tediously through the water, churning up clump after clump of mushy, green vegetation that would later be loaded onto a flat-bed trailer and hauled away.

Some wondered aloud if this was part of a long-overdue plan to dredge Mirror Pond, while others thought it was a means to collect trash that had been dumped in the water.

“Some people have hardly ever seen this before,” said Tommy San Nicolas, as he stood on the footbridge Sunday watching his co-worker John Sarmiento steer the boat through the pond. “If I saw this for the first time, I’d be curious, too.”

San Nicolas works for Aquatic Environments, based out of Northern California, and he said his company is working with the Bend Park & Recreation District to remove underwater vegetation that has sprouted up on the bottom of Mirror Pond.

The 5-ton machine, which is called an aquatic weed harvester, has sickle blades that move back and forth to cut the vegetation. A conveyor belt then lifts the weeds from the water and moves the vegetation into a 200-cubic-foot hopper that will be unloaded onto a trailer and taken to a Bend Park & Recreation composting site.

“It’s just like a lawnmower —but on water,” San Nicolas said.

Sarmiento said that on Saturday he and San Nicolas cut about 3,400 cubic feet of vegetation from Mirror Pond, and said there’s a lot more left to do. He ranked Mirror Pond as an eight out of 10 as far as how bad the weed problem is.

“It’s pretty dense,” he said. “The only part that’s clear is the channel, which is a lot deeper.”

While Aquatic Environments is now doing work for the park district, the company first started working in Mirror Pond because Bend resident Mike Hollern wanted to clear out the weeds in front of his house.

Hollern first saw the machine at work at Black Butte Ranch, and asked the company if it would do some work north of the footbridge near his home. The pond gets thick with vegetation, he said, which catches trash and makes it hard to get a canoe out.

“It just doesn’t look like a river, it looks like a mucky place,” he said.

He asked the city of Bend, the Bend Park & Recreation District and the Department of State Lands if he needed a permit to remove the plants. And when they said no, as long as he didn’t remove a certain amount of mud, he brought Aquatic Environments in for a couple of days.

“In my mind, it’s a pilot project. It’s not something that will solve the problem long term,” Hollern said. But it was something he could do while the agencies are deciding how to tackle the issue.

After Hollern’s project, the Bend Park & Recreation District hired the company, for about $3,000, to remove some of the aquatic weeds south of the footbridge, which is along Drake Park and the Harmon Park fields.

“That area’s shallower, and the weeds are thick,” said Don Horton, executive director of the park district. “It’s kind of an experiment to see whether or not this would be a solution to take care of the weed growth problem until we can have a more permanent solution.”

Silt building up in Mirror Pond has caused some areas to be very shallow, he said. And with lots of sunlight hitting the sandbars, the plants thrive.

“The plant material’s getting so thick there, in the fall when the plants start to die off, it creates a really bad smell and grows thick across the pond,” Horton said.

The park district, city of Bend and others signed a memorandum of understanding last week to form a steering committee that will start to tackle the Mirror Pond sediment issue, he said. The group will take a look at options that could range from doing nothing and allowing the pond to silt in, to dredging the area and removing accumulated sediments, Horton said.

“What we’re doing with the plant growth now is an intermittent step to keep the pond looking nice and healthy,” he said.

The aquatic weed harvester — nicknamed White Glide — is one of a fleet that Aquatic Environments uses to clean out unwanted vegetation from waterways, said George Forni, owner of the company. The company does work in rivers, deltas, lakes and ponds across the West.

The challenge in this case was getting access to the pond. Forni said the company had to work with the park district to get permission to cut across Pageant Park to get to Mirror Pond. And over the weekend, workers had to cut some railings off the machine to fit under the footbridge, he said.

“Every job’s a little different,” he added. “The bottom line is, this is what we do.”

Aquatic Environments won’t be able to completely clear out all the weeds in Mirror Pond in the time it spends in Bend. Even if the company did, however, Forni said it would only be a temporary solution because the weeds will grow back.

“Eradication is not a word used in vegetation control,” he said.

Source: The Bulletin ©2010