Saving Mirror Pond from a swampy fate

Four years after they started working on a fix for Mirror Pond’s ongoing silt buildup, Bend officials have yet to find a solution — but they say they’re moving forward with research on the likely scale and cost of the project, and hope to bring the issue to the City Council again this winter.

In the nearly quarter-century since the pond was last dredged, sediment has accumulated behind the Pacific Power & Light dam near the Newport Avenue Bridge. Two years ago, the city assembled a committee of water experts and others who concluded that if Mirror Pond wasn’t dredged again, it would likely turn the popular landmark into mud flats and wetlands within five to 10 years.

Now, planners of the project say they’re not sure when the work will be done or exactly what the revitalized pond will look like, but they are certain of one thing: The fix will be far more complicated and costly than it was the last time around. In the past few decades, environmental rules have been tightened, along with the guidelines for getting federal grants and other funding.

“What we’ve learned is that for a project of this size, whatever you do in Mirror Pond, it’s going to be several million dollars, and there’s likely to be federal funding involved. … Over the years, we’ve learned that this is not simple, quick or cheap, so we need to do what we can to get all of our ducks in a row,” said Ryan Houston, the executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council.

After receiving the 2006 committee report, the city tried — and failed — to get federal funding for the project. It set aside $200,000 for a short-term solution that would have included limited dredging. But, facing budget shortfalls, the city moved most of that money elsewhere and turned over some of the planning to Houston’s organization, a nonprofit that works to protect the river.

In the past several months, Houston said he and others have been creating an outline for the kind of studies that will need to be done on Mirror Pond before any work can be approved. He said the requirements for environmental work like dredging at Mirror Pond have changed considerably since the last time the work was done — in 1984.

Back then, the project cost $312,000, and was funded with money from a combination of federal and local sources. It required studies of the river and community involvement, but Wendy Edde, an environmental program manager with Bend’s storm water department, said this time it will take even more.

“We had a council meeting last November to look at what we could do the next summer, to see if we could dredge a little — we looked at that, and the dredge company basically laughed,” she said. “It’s a very different regulatory climate than it was in the ’80s.”

Houston said he and others hope to bring their findings to the City Council sometime in the next few months. They’ll explain the likely options for fixing the silt buildup issue, which could include just removing the sediment or adjusting the flow of the river upstream.

City Manager Eric King said finding a solution is difficult because of how connected Mirror Pond is to the rest of the river system. The pond was created in 1909 when the dam was built near the Newport Avenue Bridge.

“Mirror Pond is part of a larger issue with the Deschutes River,” King said. “We want to really focus on Mirror Pond because it’s such an iconic symbol here in Bend. But there are other sedimentation issues all along the river, and it might shift the problem somewhere else. It’s important for people to understand the scope of it.”

And the effort won’t just involve the city and the watershed group — the largest landowner around the pond is the Bend Metro Park and Recreation District, which manages about 18 acres. Other areas belong to private landowners.

Houston said it will probably take several months to raise the money just to complete an official feasibility study. Then, the city and other stakeholders will have to complete the study, and use those results to ask the federal government and others for help funding the fix.

Edde said those involved recognize some community members are frustrated by the pace of the project but said it’s tough to move it much faster, especially in a time of economic slowdown.

“I think people will still see movement forward — we’re hoping we’ll be able to find the money to keep it moving forward, to get the community behind it,” she said. “The devil is in how to fund it.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2008