Feds may shut Bend hydro dam

The powerhouse at Mirror Pond may be closed for good. The Bulletin/Lyle Cox
The powerhouse at Mirror Pond may be closed for good. The Bulletin/Lyle Cox

Federal regulators expect to recommend shutting down the hydroelectric dam that created Bend’s Mirror Pond 80 years ago.

Their reason: Another federal agency won’t budge on a requirement for costly fish screens and ladders.

Last fall the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a draft environmental assessment that recommended a new 50-year license for Pacific Power to operate the 560-foot-wide dam that formed the famed 40-acre reservoir on the Deschutes River.

However, the agency refused to require fish screens. It suggested a fish ladder would not be needed for at least a decade.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stuck to its guns, however. So FERC official John Clements now told officials from the utility and city that the final recommendation, due out this summer, will change.

“Our preliminary assessment of the comment letters shows that we’ll probably be recommending project retirement,” he wrote.

The fish screens and ladder being sought  by Fish and Wildlife would cost an estimated $1.8 million. Other improvements would run the tab up to as much as $5.7 million.

If it comes to that, Pacific Power would rather just shut the plant down, at an estimated cost of $1.7 million, according to the company’s local manager, Clark Satre.

Decommissioning a hydro dam raises a whole new set of questions, many of which have never been faced, officials say.

The biggest question: Who will take over the site once the turbines are stilled, and who would fund maintenance and possible improvements, such as a long-discussed powerhouse museum?

Utility officials met this week with local and state officials, biologists and fishery groups. There discussion about pursuit of government grants for preservation of historic buildings and flood control.

Another issue: how to fund periodic dredging of the pond to remove siltation. The last such dredging was done a decade ago at a cost of about $300,000.

Source: The Bulletin ©1994