The community wants too much

The relicensing of PacifiCorp’s historic dam and powerhouse on the Deschutes River in downtown Bend is a chance for the community to ensure that the utility makes needed improvements in the facility.

It should not be perceived, however, as an opportunity to demand that the company solve all of the environmental problems on the upper Deschutes River—including sediment problems in Mirror Pond.

This week, local, state and federal government officials weighed in with a long list of improvements it sought if PacifiCorp proceeds with plans to operate the facility for another 30 years. Some said the plant should simply be shut down.

Our belief is that PacifiCorp ought to take care of longstanding damage linked directly to operation of the power plant—including the tens of thousands of fish that are sucked into its turbines each year.

If the utility determines that the small amount of power generated at the site is important, given future projected shortages of electricity, then it should pony up the costs of fish screens and passages.

Too, the utility must renovate the old dam. PacifiCorp officials already have agreed to install an inflatable cover over the dam that would help prevent flooding in the event of ice buildup behind the structure.

But the community is mistaken if it believes it can pile any more requests on top of PacifiCorp. The sedimentation of Mirror Pond, for example, is a function of exposed banks, heavy motorboat use and development along the upper Deschutes River. Yes, the sediment builds up where the river is slowed by the dam, but, no, PacifiCorp had nothing to do with the source of the problem.

And if community leaders are serious about PacifiCorp shutting down the project, which agency is willing to step forward and take responsibility for the dam and the historic power plant? Surely, no one seriously believes Bend would be better off without the dam— and, therefore, without Mirror Pond.

It would be fair to ask PacifiCorp to strengthen the dam, take the turbines out of the powerhouse and hand over the keys to the facility. However, those who want to see that happen should be ready to step up and accept those keys, and the responsibility that goes with them.

Source: The Bulletin

Critics say hydro plant should be turned off

The aging power plant on the Deschutes River in downtown Bend is a money-loser, a fish-killer and an eyesore, and the community would be better off if it were shut down, critics of a plan to relicense the facility said Wednesday.

However, PacifiCorp officials said the hydro facility that ushered the electric age into Bend eight decades ago can be revitalized and made to safely churn out electricity for decades to come.

“It is old and tired, but there is nothing to preclude it from operations for another 30 years,” said Randy Landolt, a member of PacifiCorp’s hydro division.

PacifiCorp, the parent company of Pacific Power, is seeking a new 30-year federal license for the so-called Bend Project, the dam and power plant built by the now-defunct Bend Water, Light & Power Co. on the east bank of the Deschutes in 1910.

PacifiCorp officials held an all-day meeting in Bend Wednesday to gather comments of various local, state and federal agencies. The government leaders urged the utility to either retire the power plant or make major improvements in the facility.

Critics of the relicensing plan insisted that the utility take steps to reverse longstanding environmental problems, including damage to fish runs, problems created by ice buildup behind the dam and the sedimentation of Mirror Pond.

However, utility officials warned that the small hydroelectric project—which generates enough power to provide electricity to only about 400 homes—is not profitable enough to merit spending millions of dollars on fish screens and other improvements.

“This project cannot in and of itself support every improvement that people want to see,” Landolt said.

PacifiCorp officials sparred with Deschutes County Commissioner Tom Throop and other local government leaders over the question of whether the power plant is responsible for the heavy sediment buildup in Mirror Pond.

The sediment, which comes from eroding banks and other sources on the upper Deschutes River, is deposited in Mirror Pond when the river is slowed at the PacifiCorp dam.

“If the dam wasn’t there, and the power plant wasn’t there, there wouldn’t be a sedimentation problem in Mirror Pond,” Throop said.

“If the dam wasn’t there,” Landolt replied, “there wouldn’t be a Mirror Pond.”

PacifiCorp also was criticized for concluding that fish screens and other measures that would allow fish passage of the dam were simply too expensive to construct, given the limited production at the power plant.

A PacifiCorp study last year concluded that about 40,000 fish—including 1,200 to 1,400 rainbow trout—are swept into the powerhouse turbines each year.

However, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists said the study occurred at the tail end of a four-year drought, when fish populations were at perhaps an all-time low. In fact, biologist Ted Fies said, the number of fish that enter the powerhouse could be more than 100,000 a year.

Rich Kruger, another ODFW biologist, noted that a major effort is under way to improve fisheries in the upper Deschutes, including the stretch of river in the urban area.

“There is a lot of money being poured into this region to improve things. This is of a major importance to us,” Krugar said. “The Department (of Fish and Wildlife) is not going to back down on this.”

Dennis Canty, a National Park Service analyst, noted that PacifiCorp admitted that in the future the Bend Project will cost more to operate than it will produce in revenues. He said the power plant should be retired and the turbines removed, allowing for fish passage.

“This is a fundamentally inefficient project,” Canty said. “I don’t think the public is well served by pursuing licensing for another 30 years. How can you justify this?”

Landolt said PacifiCorp wanted to relicense the powerhouse because it would cost the utility more to shut it down than to keep it operating. “The alternative is a major capital expenditure for retirement with absolutely no revenues to offset it,” he said.

PacifiCorp’s application for relicensing will be presented to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in late December. The agency, which must balance the need for power against the environmental costs of operating the plant, could take several years to issue a ruling on the matter.

The Bend Project’s current license expires in December 1993.

Source: The Bulletin ©1991

Future clouded for Mirror Pond dam

Historic powerhouse on Deschutes River in Bend may be shut down after 81 years of use
Historic powerhouse on Deschutes River in Bend may be shut down after 81 years of use

The dam and powerhouse that formed Bend’s Mirror Pond and sent the first electricity surging through the community 81 years ago now faces an uncertain future.

PacifiCorp, owner of the historic facility that sits on the east bank of the Deschutes River near downtown Bend, is seeking a renewal of its federal license for the project.

But some local government officials are urging PacifiCorp to permanently shut down the powerhouse, which provides only a tiny fraction of the electricity used in Central Oregon.

Others see the relicensing application as an opportunity to address for the first time environmental problems—such as heavy sediment buildup in Mirror Pond—that is partially caused by the power plant.

Meanwhile, PacifiCorp even has suggested the possibility of removing the powerhouse and the dam—a move, which is unlikely, that would have a dramatic effect on the appearance of downtown Bend.

It will be months before a final decision is made. But these issues will be discussed Wednesday when PacifiCorp officials come to Bend for an all-day meeting with city, county, park district and other government representatives.

City and county officials plan to press PacifiCorp to make major improvements to the dam, and ask the company to commit to sharing the future costs of removing silt that backs up into Mirror Pond. In 1984, the community spent several hundred thousand dollars to dredge the pond; already, the work is needed again.

Too, those agencies want the utility to reduce the size of its substation, take steps to protect fish from the power turbines and provide public access through the site for a continuation of the Deschutes River Trail.

“We see this as a great opportunity,” said Deschutes County Commissioner Tom Throop. “This power project has had far-reaching effects on Bend, and we’ve never been in a position before to influence its operation.”

The Bend Metro Park and Recreation District, meanwhile, has joined the National Park Service in requesting that PacifiCorp retire the powerhouse. The Park Service is required by law to review federal dam relicensing applications.

Ernio Drapela, park district director, said he favors shutting down the powerhouse but preserving the historic brick building and the dam.

Shutting down the powerhouse, which illuminated a total of 375 light bulbs when the turbines began spinning in 1910, would have little effect on Bend today.

The powerhouse now produces less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the electricity deliverer by Pacific Power to customers in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties.

Source: The Bulletin ©1991