Bend candidates critique council

Candidates for Bend City Council who spoke at a forum Thursday night critiqued city officials for failing to plan for growth and not asking enough questions about expensive infrastructure projects.

The forum was for candidates running for two of the four City Council positions up for election in November. Candidates Victor Chudowsky, Wade Fagen and Barb Campbell are all seeking election to position 1; while incumbent City Councilor Kathie Eckman and challengers Ron “Rondo” Boozell and Sally Russell are seeking election to position 3.

The forum at City Hall was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Deschutes County, a nonpartisan organization that does not endorse candidates or measures. Candidates for the other two seats up for election will answer questions at a forum Thursday.

One incumbent present

As the only incumbent at the forum, Eckman listened to other candidates critique the current council for not asking enough questions about a $68 million water project and not responding adequately to the concerns of citizens.

“I enjoy listening to these comments, mostly because we’ve already tried to implement most of it,” Eckman said, after Russell proposed holding informal City Council meetings in different areas of the city to encourage interaction with citizens.

Many of the candidates said fixing the sewer sysstem, which is near capacity, is the largest infrastructure problem the city faces.

Chudowsky said he approved of the city’s decision to put sewer construction on hold and form a citizen advisory group, but he said the city needs to set a timeline for sewer improvements.

Campbell critiqued the council’s recent decision to hire a consultant to plan sewer improvements.

“I can tell you right now, the city of Bend is not planning the sewer system,” Campbell said, referring to a vote by the council in early September to approve a $1.9 million contract with Murray Smith and Associates Inc. for a new sewer system master plan. The company has offices in Springfield, Portland, Washington and Idaho.

“Can’t we keep that money in town?” Campbell said. Campbell said city employees cited a lack of office space and the need for expensive software as reasons to hire a consultant, but she believes $2 million should be enough to do the job locally.

Russell said people are beginning to realize that fixing the sewer system is “the huge issue” for the city, and it will be difficult to find the money to pay for it.

Eckman said sewer improvements are as important as, or perhaps more important than, the water project. Eckman defended the decision by the City Council to hire the consultant.

“Our staff is not qualified to do this consulting work, and they’re not qualified in Bend, either, which is why we have to go out to do that consulting work,” Eckman said.

Boozell did not propose a specific approach to the city’s sewer problems, but said he would not vote to issue bonds to pay for such work unless it was an emergency.

Mirror Pond problem

The question that prompted the widest variety of responses was how the community should handle Mirror Pond, where silt buildup will eventually create mudflats if nothing is done.

Chudowsky said if the cost to dredge Mirror Pond is on the low end of what experts have estimated — around $2 million — private fundraising could cover most of the bill and the city, Bend Park & Recreation District and Pacific Power could cover the remainder. Pacific Power owns the dam that created Mirror Pond. If the cost is closer to $5 million, the city should ask voters whether they want to pay for dredging, Chudowsky said.

Campbell questioned how the city, the park district and other members of a steering committee have approached the problem. Last week, the Mirror Pond Steering Committee decided to spend $100,000 to find out how citizens want to handle the issue.

“We need to find out what these projects will cost before we decide to blaze forward on them,” Campbell said.

Fagen said the question of what to do about Mirror Pond is his favorite, because his plan sets him apart from other candidates. Fagen said during his childhood, the water level was lowered and after the silt dried, it was removed. That is what he would like to do now. “You can simply go down in there and I promise we’ll get it done for $1 million,” Fagen said.

Eckman said environmental regulations limit the options, but the community needs to find a permanent solution. “If it means going back to a flowing river, then that’s what we need to do as well,” Eckman said.

Boozell said the city needs to resolve the issue sooner rather than later.

Russell described a lengthier process. “It will probably be a package of solutions with entities working together over time.”

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

Get costs for Mirror Pond options

The city of Bend and the Bend Park & Recreation District have the cart before the Mirror Pond horse, it seems. They’re planning to ask citizens what they’d like to have happen to the pond, then go about figuring exactly how to get there.

Thus they plan to spend half of a $200,000 pot surveying residents about what they’d like to see done to the pond, which has silted badly since it last was dredged in 1984. The current discussion has been going on at least since 1991; it’s time to resolve the matter.

Yet asking citizens what they’d like to see done before there are any serious estimates about it will cost to accomplish each of them makes no sense.

There is, for example, a best-guess estimate that it will cost between $2 million and $5 million to dredge the pond. That’s a whopping increase from the price tag of the last dredging job, though understandable in light of what new criteria will have to be met before dredging begins.

We don’t know, however, what it would cost to remove the Pacific Power dam that formed the pond in the first place, and we don’t know who would be expected to pay for that removal. Nor do we understand the implications of simply letting the silt continue to build up the pond until the city is graced by a mud flat through its middle.

Finally, and no doubt critically, we don’t really know who owns the land under the pond and what the implications of that ownership are. A committee currently weighing the matter is inclined to delay answering that last question, though it seems from here to be a key factor in deciding what can be done.

We suspect Bend residents will want to see Mirror Pond remain Mirror Pond. It is, after all, the signature section of the river that is such a signature part of the community. We also suspect residents will want to be able to choose that option knowing what other choices might cost.

If, after the numbers are crunched, officials want to do a survey, fine. Meanwhile, however, they should spend every bit of the money they’ve set aside to find out just what can be done and what the different options will cost. Then and only then should they ask residents to weigh in on the matter.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

Citizen input sought on Mirror Pond

Local officials said Tuesday they plan to spend $200,000 seeking a solution for the sediment buildup in Mirror Pond, including as much as $100,000 to find out what citizens want to do.

Options include dredging the pond, removing a hydroelectric dam to return the river to its natural flow and allowing silt to continue building up until the pond turns into a mudflat.

Members of the Mirror Pond Steering Committee met Tuesday and said their ultimate goal is to ask voters to approve a new tax district to pay for work on Mirror Pond, but first they must gauge public support for various options.

“That’s going to gain momentum, it’s going to get people excited about forming a special district and fixing Mirror Pond,” Don Horton, executive director of the Bend Park & Recreation District, said of the public process. The remainder of the $200,000 can be used to obtain permits and other work to prepare for whichever option is selected during the public process, committee members said.

The steering committee includes officials from the city and the park district, as well as Bill Smith, whose company William Smith Properties Inc. owns the dam upstream from the pond; a representative of Pacific Power, which owns the dam that created Mirror Pond; and a member of Bend 2030, a civic group. The $200,000 was pledged earlier this year by the city and the park district, each of which plans to contribute $100,000.

Officials have estimated the cost of dredging to be between $2 million and $5 million.

The park district is also poised to hire a temporary project manager to oversee the Mirror Pond public process and another parks project, the drafting of a master plan to redevelop the former Mt. Bachelor Park and Ride lot at Southwest Simpson Avenue and Columbia Street. Before the district hires the contractor, however, Horton said he will meet with officials from Oregon State University-Cascades Campus to find out whether they support hiring a project manager. The master plan would designate space for both OSU-Cascades facilities and parks projects.

Meanwhile, the question of who owns the land under Mirror Pond remains. Committee members said they do not plan to seek a definitive answer anytime soon, despite the fact that they would need the owners’ permission for any project.

The McKay family, whose ancestors moved to Bend in the early 1900s, claims ownership of much of the land under Mirror Pond. The only member of the steering committee who sought to verify the claim is Smith, the developer of the Old Mill District. Smith paid for a title search and told committee members the McKay family owns 90 percent of the land under Mirror Pond, Bend Director of Community Development Mel Oberst has said. However, Smith has not provided the results of the title search to the other committee members.

Members of the committee said they will wait to pay for their own title search until the public process to select a plan for the pond is complete because they need specifics before approaching any landowners.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

Steering Committee Minutes 9-18-2012

MIRROR POND STEERING COMMITTEE

Attendance: Bill Smith, Angela Jacobson, Don Horton, Mel Oberst, Matt Shinderman, Joy Cooper (student intern), Hilary B (media)

  • Discussed the possibility of hiring a special project manager to do permitting for Mirror Pond, to be paid by Bend Parks and Rec District
    • Went over the potential scope of work for the manager
  • Continued discussion of the financial commitment by City and Bend Parks and Rec District
    • If a project manager were hired, the other funds previously committed could be expended on professional services
  • The District could assist in the public process to keep cost down
  • Matt has access to a University of Oregon architectural graduate student who could help with the planning process and design work
  • Matt spoke with Bend 2030 Management Board about collaborating with OSU Cascades to run public outreach process, will pursue this topic further
  • Continued the discussion on a special district option

Adjourned @ 1:00PM

Document: MPSC-Minutes-2012-09-18