More study won’t cure Mirror Pond

Choose the one feature that most anyone who has heard of Bend will remember, and it’s Mirror Pond, created in 1910 when a dam was built at its northern end to provide power for the city of Bend. It is arguably the city’s most photographed feature, a staple on postcards and, flanked by public parks as it is, as much a town square gathering place as there is in this community.

But Mirror Pond has problems. Thanks in part to Deschutes River fluctuations, in part to the removal of log decks to the south and other problems, the pond has silted up dramatically in recent years. It last was dredged in 1984, and it’s clear that unless the city does something to correct the situation in the near future, what is now a pond will become a mudflat with a river running down its middle.

Bend city councilors know all that, and have, in fact, made it clear they don’t want that to happen. They understand the pond’s importance; they’re having more trouble coming to grips with what to do to correct its problems.

That may be understandable. While the earlier dredging cost less than $500,000, a similar process would be dramatically more expensive today, and the city simply doesn’t have the money. It had hoped for about half a million dollars in federal funds this year, but it hasn’t received it. The $200,000 it has set aside would cover a mere fraction of a bill that almost surely will top $1 million.

Now, councilors are waffling about what to do next, so much so that they’re talking about partnering with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council to — you guessed it — study the situation yet again, come up with options and go forth from there. That almost surely would push any solution back by at least a year, perhaps longer.

In reality, there’s no need to study anything. Councilors have said what they want to do with the pond: They want, or wanted, to restore it to what it was after dredging in 1984. That’s the best plan — anything that changes its looks changes the very heart of Bend in most people’s minds. Rather than dithering, studying and fussing for another year or more, councilors should concentrate on the real issue at hand: Finding the money to fix the pond as soon as possible, nothing more.

Source: The Bulletin ©2007

Bend changing course on Mirror Pond plan

It’s been a year since a committee issued a lengthy report on how to fix Mirror Pond. Just last month, the Bend City Council endorsed spending about $200,000 it had set aside for Mirror Pond to do limited dredging.

Now, acknowledging that the money wouldn’t be enough to make much difference, the council is changing course again, pursuing a partnership with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council.

And while the latest round is still just talk, officials are hopeful it will start advancing toward tangible restoration efforts.

“It’s been one of those things where over the years, I think it has been assigned to various people inside the city, various departments,” said Ryan Houston, the executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, a nonprofit group that monitors the river. “This would be the first time that it would be a contractual obligation.”

Since it was last dredged in 1984, Mirror Pond has steadily filled up with silt behind the Pacific Power & Light dam near the Newport Avenue Bridge. If left untouched, the pond would most likely turn into mud flats and wetlands in five to 10 years.

Houston hopes the city and his group can hammer out an agreement by March or April.

Doing so would put the watershed council in charge of leading restoration efforts with the political and financial backing of the city.

By this time next year, Houston said, he hopes to unveil a set of four or five detailed restoration plans for residents to comment on at community meetings. The plans would include detailed computer-generated renderings from several different angles to help people visualize what the options might look like.

One of the key problems, Houston said, is that people don’t have the same images in mind when they talk about restoring Mirror Pond. Thus, moving forward so people can see renderings of the options could help them understand what dredging, habitat restoration or more complicated engineering would look like when viewed from Drake Park, for example.

Councilor Mark Capell said at a City Council meeting last week that once the city has detailed plans in hand and commitments from residents and businesses to help chip in for the cost of restoration efforts, the city may have an easier time getting state or federal funding for the project.

“Until we do this work, until we get the public input and have the costing and engineering put together, we’re not going to get funding from anybody,” Capell said at the meeting last week.

The city spent $312,000 to dredge Mirror Pond more than 20 years ago, money that came from a variety of federal and local sources. More recent estimates put the cost to dredge today above $1 million.

Bend’s efforts to get about $500,000 in federal funding this year were fruitless. That money would have gone toward engineering and design, without actually removing any silt.

Restoring the pond could entail just dragging out silt, or it could be more elaborate, adjusting the flow of the river upstream to reduce silt, or adding underwater cement walls in Mirror Pond to channel the flow of the river.

Houston said while people discuss what’s best for Mirror Pond, they seem to have differing views of what they want.

And discuss it they have. The issue of pulling silt out of Mirror Pond, the water level of which is now only a few inches deep in many places, has come up periodically since at least 2002.

“We’re not doing anything, and we’re not moving forward at all and what I’m trying to do is get us off the dime,” Capell said at a recent City Council meeting. He approached Houston about the possible partnership.

While other councilors appeared supportive of the possible partnership, they were also leery about spending more money for additional studies without actually moving forward.

“I’m concerned about the length of time that we’ve already put in,” Councilor Linda Johnson said at the same meeting. “I don’t know how much longer we can go before our options start to become extremely limited.”

Houston said by shifting much of the responsibility to his group, it would pull the Mirror Pond issue out of the city’s cycle of politics.

“The Mirror Pond issue is very politically charged ~ and so it’s very easy for it to get sidetracked,” Houston said. “This shouldn’t be that complicated of an effort, but given that political tension that’s in there, who knows if it gets derailed.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2007