Regulation drives up cost of solution at Mirror Pond

Just about 25 years ago, the city of Bend dredged Mirror Pond at a cost of $312,000. Now it faces the need to do the work again, but the price tag has skyrocketed, and it could cost as much as $5 million to do the same job.

My, how things have changed.

What has not changed is the necessity of the job. Mirror Pond is perhaps the single most identifiable feature of Bend and has been so almost since the day the city was formed. It shows up on postcards, on Christmas cards and in family photos. It is the focal point of the city’s most visible park, Drake, and enhances the recreational opportunities that already abound there. If Bend has a heart, it is found in the quiet waters of Mirror Pond.

Almost everything else has changed.

Twenty-five years ago, the city and its citizens were not obligated to consider a variety of alternatives to dredging. That alone will drive up the cost of the current project tremendously. So, too, will the need to answer to a whole host of agencies as the project progresses. Today, the project will involve the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of State Lands and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, each of which will seek specific information about the project before it allows dredging to progress.

It may well be, as officials have suggested, that it isn’t that regulation has driven the cost of the project up so much this time as interest in the project. That may be true, as far as it goes. It simply doesn’t go far enough.

Interest in all things environmental has grown in the years since the first dredging was completed. There’s more emphasis on keeping water clean and cool, more emphasis on wildlife that lives in and along the river, more worry about downstream impacts from work on the pond itself. Too, there’s far more emphasis on public involvement in any project of this type than there was in the early 1980s.

All that interest has served to increase regulation of such things as a Mirror Pond dredging, and that regulation plays a major role in the high price predicted for the current project. So yes, interest has driven the price right up, but it’s done so by increasing the regulatory hoops the city must go through to get the project done.

Source: The Bulletin ©2009

As silt gathers in Mirror Pond, officials unsure of who’s in charge of a solution

Three months after it was assembled, the management team tasked with finding a solution for the growing silt buildup problem in Bend’s Mirror Pond is still trying to decide who should take charge of the work — but some of the group’s members say they’re hoping to have the project leadership sorted out by early next year.

The Mirror Pond Management Board has more than a dozen members representing a variety of government agencies, environmental groups and businesses with interest in the situation. Sediment has been building up in the iconic pond since it was last dredged more than two decades ago, and water experts have said it will turn into mudflats and wetlands within the next five to 10 years if left untouched.

The last time Mirror Pond was dredged, in 1984, it cost $312,000 and the effort was led by the city of Bend. This time, the environmental regulations are stricter and the project is estimated to cost between $2 million and $5 million, and representatives for the agencies involved in the project say it’s simply too big of a price tag to take on alone — particularly given the current state of the economy.

“Everybody’s sort of in that position,” Bend City Manager Eric King said. “This is the time, when budgets are tight, that you sort of have to get a little more creative about not just about how you provide leadership, but how you implement projects.”

Shortly after the group started meeting in August, members began discussing which agency would lead the project and formed a subcommittee to consider the issue.

Bend City Councilor Tom Greene said some of the board expressed interest in letting the Bend Park & Recreation District take the lead because it owns more land around Mirror Pond than any other agency.

But Don Horton, the district’s executive director, said the project’s scope is too big to handle alone, in terms of both funding and planning.

“There was a discussion of whether or not we have to be the (lead) agency,” Horton said. “I think they see this as similar to a park project, but in our view it’s really not. We haven’t done projects to this scale that involve the environmental regulations this involves.”

Horton said the district wants to remain a key player in the work, so it has agreed take on a leadership role with the city of Bend and Pacific Power, which controls the dam that creates the pond.

Angela Jacobson, Pacific Power’s regional community manager, said the subcommittee members still need to take that idea back to the larger board in a meeting next month. She said it’s still unclear how much each agency will contribute to the initial planning process, which has been estimated to cost $500,000 and take up to two years.

But Jacobson said the board seems to agree that it should hire a manager to help coordinate the project in the near future.

“I think that could probably be the most efficient way, the most succinct way to move it along,” she said. “Otherwise, each of us as interested organizations represent our sole interests, and we may not necessarily come to any solutions.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2009