The Newport Avenue Dam could be one significant repair bill away from being shut down for good, according to a spokesman for the utility that operates the dam.
Now 100 years old, the dam brought Central Oregon its first electricity, creating Mirror Pond along the way. The dam’s future has been placed in the spotlight through a Bend Park & Recreation District-led process to determine what should be done about the silt that has been slowly filling Mirror Pond since it was last dredged in 1984.
PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely said the dam can be compared to an older car a family might keep around as backup transportation.
“It is the second car — as long as you’re not rebuilding the engine, it’s worth your while to keep driving, but when the mechanic gives you a $3,000 bill for your car, it’s time to reconsider,” he said. “That’s how we view the situation right now.”
Gravely said he couldn’t say how much money PacifiCorp would be willing to put in to keeping the dam running if repairs became necessary.
For now, he said the company is following the local discussion of options for Mirror Pond while trying not to exert undue influence on the process.
“In general, I would say that right now it remains economical to operate for customers,” Gravley said. “But, it is 100 years old, and we’re continuing to make sure it’s safe and all of that. … It would be hard to see any kind of major capital investment being made that would allow it to continue being economical.”
With a generation capacity of 1.1 megawatts, the Newport Avenue Dam is the smallest of the six hydroelectric power plants operated by PacifiCorp, providing just more than one-tenth of 1 percent of the total power potential of the company’s hydro system.
Because hydroelectric plants do not typically generate power all day, every day, capacity figures overstate their actual production. Power output is measured in megawatt hours (MWh), a calculation of the actual electricity generated reached by multiplying the capacity with the number of hours the turbines are turning. With consistent water supplies, a 1.1 MW facility like the Newport Avenue Dam running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year would produce 9,636 MWh of electricity.
Generation figures shared by the company indicate the Newport Avenue Dam produced 3,344 MWh in 2012 and 2,115 MWh in 2011, down from the long-term historical average of 4,106 MWh. Using the U.S. Department of Energy standard that places the average household’s annual electricity consumption at 11,280 kilowatts, the dam’s total output supplied power for 296 homes last year, and 188 the year before.
According to the Oregon Public Utility Commission, the average PacifiCorp residential customer pays 10.8 cents per kilowatt hour. At that rate, the Newport Avenue Dam would have generated an income of $228,420 for PacifiCorp in 2012, not counting any costs associated with transmission, administration or maintenance.
Steve Johnson, the manager of the Central Oregon Irrigation District, said those kinds of dollar figures suggest it wouldn’t take much for PacifiCorp to give up on the Newport Avenue Dam as a power source.
The irrigation district operates two hydroelectric generators of its own, one on a canal intake near Mt. Bachelor Village and one on its canal between Bend and Redmond that together generate roughly 10 times the power of the Newport Avenue Dam.
“It’s only real value now is, it creates Mirror Pond,” Johnson said. “I think PacifiCorp is just gonna follow along with what the community does, but if the community wants that dam removed, the community is gonna pay for it. PacifiCorp ain’t gonna pay for that.”
If PacifiCorp were to give up on generating power at the Newport Avenue Dam, it’s likely the dam would have to come down as well. The state permit under which the dam is operated gives PacifiCorp the right to impound the river for power generation — and, interestingly, debris removal and ice production — but not recreational purposes like creating a pond.
Jim Figurski, a consultant working with the park district to draw up plans for how to address the silt issue at Mirror Pond, said the Oregon Water Resources Department has assured him it wouldn’t rush dam removal were PacifiCorp to give up on power generation, but could be forced to act if a private citizen or group were to raise the issue.
Mary Grainey from the Oregon Water Resources Department’s hydroelectric division said PacifiCorp would have the option of selling or transferring its water rights — again, only for hydroelectric generation, debris removal or ice production — or the rights would revert back to the state.
Grainey said PacifiCorp would have up to five years to transfer its water rights to another user or the state. Alternatively, the company or another party that received the water rights through a transfer could appeal to the Water Resources Commission to create a recreational or aesthetic water right, Grainey said, adding such rights are typically only granted for smaller waterways on private property.
Figurski said he doesn’t think a push to create a recreational water right is likely to succeed.
“I think the recreational components in most places were secondary to flood control, irrigation, power generation,” Figurski said. “To create a new water right, you would be starting from scratch and would be subject to all the new regulations.”
If hydroelectric generation were to come to an end and the dam were somehow allowed to remain in place with a new water right, it’s likely state regulators would require the dam’s owner to address fish passage. Johnson estimated screens to keep fish from being sucked through the dam and a fish ladder for upstream travel could run $1 million to $2 million at the Newport Avenue Dam.
Were PacifiCorp to continue generating power but wish to make significant modifications to the dam, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could require it be re-licensed — PacifiCorp was allowed to opt out of FERC licensing in 1996 — triggering the need to install fish passage and meet other modern regulatory requirements.
Gravely said that although he can’t be certain what would happen were FERC to require the dam be re-licensed, the costs associated with a pending license renewal have led to the removal of many older dams across the Northwest. Still, he said it’s hard to guess when PacifiCorp might decide operating the dam is more trouble than its worth.
“It’s 100 years old. We believe it’s much closer to the end of its viability than the beginning,” he said.
‘There will be a reaction’
Figurski said he can understand why PacifiCorp is trying to avoid dominating the discussion over Mirror Pond, even if what becomes of the dam could alter Mirror Pond as much or more than any of the dredging or channel-building now under consideration.
“I think they’re being pretty conservative,” he said. “Because they could obviously be driving this process, and say ‘We’re going to take the dam out; you guys do whatever.’”
On April 30, members of the Mirror Pond Management Board will see preliminary illustrations of various options for addressing the silt buildup in the pond. Figurski said the board will see a no-dam scenario, a scenario that preserves the traditional look of Mirror Pond, and a number of middle options that ideally could be implemented with or without the Newport Avenue Dam.
Figurski said one of the clearest messages he took from a questionnaire on Mirror Pond earlier this year was the public’s desire to find an approach that will enhance the area upstream of the dam, regardless of how long the dam remains — and ideally, won’t be completely undone if the dam is removed.
“I don’t think the idea is you wouldn’t have to do anything if the dam comes out, but how do you not lose everything you’ve done,” he said. “If and when the dam goes away, there will be a reaction. Let’s minimize what we have to do at that point.”
Section 3(8) of the FPA defines “navigable waters.” In essence, navigable waters are those that are used or suitable for use for the transportation of persons or property in interstate or foreign commerce.
Section 3(8) “Navigable waters” means those parts of streams or other bodies of water over which Congress has jurisdiction under its authority to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States, and which either in their natural or improved condition notwithstanding interruptions between the navigable parts of such streams or waters by falls, shallows, or rapids compelling land carriage, are used or suitable for use for the transportation of persons or property in interstate or foreign commerce, including therein all such interrupting falls, shallows, or rapids, together with such other parts of streams as shall have been authorized by Congress for improvement by the United States or shall have been recommended to Congress for such improvement after investigation under its authority;
The Newport Avenue dam is at the end of its life cycle. Everyone knows it—even PacifiCorp, the utility company that owns the 102-year-old dam, which creates the pond at Drake Park near downtown Bend.
What many don’t know, however, is that the dam cannot remain if it ceases to function as a hydroelectric facility. Those are the rules: According to water-right certificate No. 29581, Pacific Power & Light Co. (now PacifiCorp, which owns Pacific Power) has the right only to use the water for power generation and ice and debris removal. There’s no built-in right for storing water.
So, the idea that PacifiCorp can simply retire the crumbling dam from service as a power-generating tool, but leave the structure in place to retain a pond, is a thought that should no longer be considered.
“By no means could it stay there just to keep Mirror Pond,” said Deschutes Basin Watermaster Jeremy Giffin, who also put to rest talk of transferring those water rights for recreational purposes. All of the water rights on the Upper Deschutes River, said Giffin, have already been allocated.
PacifiCorp officials hope, however, the case isn’t as cut and dried as it seems. Company spokesman Bob Gravely said, although, “it’s not really an issue we’ve looked at closely,” he’s optimistic a solution could be found that would allow the dam to remain in place.
But the water-right news puts PacifiCorp in a tight spot. Company representatives have admitted that, from a hydroelectric standpoint, the dam provides negligible electricity. According to company stats, the dam only generates enough power for 300 to 400 homes. Angela Price, PafiCorp rep and Mirror Pond Steering Committee member, recently called the structure “a small asset.”
Moreover, altering the Newport Avenue dam is also an unlikely course. Adding fish ladders and other such necessary updates or repairs would be expensive and would trigger action from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC licensing would be a costly route that could take years to navigate—an unappealing scenario for PacifiCorp.
Jim Figurski, the project manager who’s been hired by the city and Bend Park & Recreation District to find a fix for a pond that is clogging with silt, has already thought about all this.
“My understanding is that the water right is solely associated with the generation of power,” said Figurski, echoing Watermaster Jeremy Giffin’s words. Figurski added that, while he can’t speak for the city, he thought a handoff or sale of the dam from PacifiCorp to the city highly unlikely.
To account for this, Figurski, who also sits on the Mirror Pond Steering Committee, the decision-making body overseeing the project, said at least three of the four possible solutions being drafted by his consultant team will include a Deschutes River with no dam in place at Newport Avenue. Figurski expects to have four designs, ones created by Portland’s Greenworks, a landscape architecture and environmental design firm, ready for public viewing and input by early June.
Fellow Steering Committee member Ryan Houston, Upper Deschutes Water Council executive director, is enthusiastic about Figurski’s approach but wants to make one thing clear: “Whether you want a pond or not is irrelevant—that dam is old,” Houston said. “The writing is on the wall.”
Going forward, Houston said he hopes the community can understand that the issues swirling about the silt-filled pond aren’t either/or.
“It’s either going to benefit recreationalists or homeowners; water quality versus not—when I hear someone playing these things off of each other as if they’re-black and-white solutions, I say ‘no,’ ” Houston said. “They’re false choices.”
Some would like to see the pond stay, no matter the cost, as they see it as an iconic Bend fixture. Other residents, who value the river’s health, would rather see the Deschutes return to a more natural state. River enthusiasts hope the solution allows for more recreating on the river. Others still ask that the area around Drake Park remain aesthetically pleasing.
The solution, Houston said, should be clever enough so that it pleases environmentalists, neighbors and recreationalists alike.
Figurski agrees, and said he’s trying to help his design team think outside of the box.
“The potential to retain pond-like characteristics,” Figurski said, is there, even without a dam.
But, at this point, one eventuality is clear—the dam’s days are numbered. SW
Five young “honkers,” believed to be the first geese hatched this year on Mirror Pond, were cruising slowly along the river, downstream from the Tumalo avenue bridge, today in convoy formation, with a mother “honker” and a father “honker” on scout duty nearby.
An Eagle Point man was sentenced to 90 days in jail Monday for creating three illegal reservoirs on property he maintains he no longer owns.
Jackson County Circuit Judge Lorenzo Mejia on Monday sentenced Gary Harrington to three months in jail for violating conditions of his probation and extended his post-prison supervision to five years. He has until April 29 to report to jail, Mejia ordered.
Harrington, 65, was found guilty of three counts of appropriating water without a permit, three counts of interfering with the use of water, and three counts of unauthorized use of water in a jury trial before Judge Tim Gerking on July 11. (Correction: Details of the conviction and sentence have been corrected in this story.)
Harrington has been repeatedly convicted over an 11-year span for illegally storing water on his Crowfoot Road property without a permit. He even pleaded guilty to similar charges in 2008, but he refuses to drain the ponds as ordered by the court, Mejia said.
“Most people, when caught in a criminal act, at least promise not to do the act again,” Mejia said, adding Harrington was “willfully in violation of the orders of the court.”
Harrington has had ample time to drain the reservoirs as he was ordered to do earlier last summer after his conviction, and as a condition of his probation, Mejia said.
Harrington uses dams to capture rain water that falls on his property. The water is collected in three reservoirs, one of which is 13 feet deep and close to an acre in size. The reservoirs are stocked with fish and lined with boat docks.
Harrington has maintained the ponds are a valuable fire-suppression resource in the summer. He said fire departments have pulled water from the ponds to fight blazes.
State officials counter that Harrington has illegally collected the water by building 20-foot-tall dams without permits.
State law exempts water collected off parking lots or rooftops and funneled into rain barrels, water resources officials say. If it’s not gathered on an artificial, impervious surface, such as a rooftop, then a property owner needs a state water right permit to collect it.
Harrington claimed to have relinquished his property to what he called a private membership association. Harrington has said that more than 30 people have joined the organization that now owns his property.
“My wife and I are done with the ponds,” Harrington said, adding he still lives on and maintains the property for the new owners.
Before a packed courtroom of Harrington’s supporters, the judge took issue with Harrington’s arguments that the ponds were no longer under his control.
The state prosecutor said the current ownership is immaterial to the time of the crime and for the release of the water.
“If the water’s being illegally held, it doesn’t matter who owns the (ponds),” Mejia agreed, adding there was no dispute regarding the ownership at the time of the violation.
Mejia said Harrington’s actions to quit claiming the property’s title was done solely to avoid the legal consequences of his criminal acts.
“He lives on the property. He controls the property. It’s a sham,” Mejia said.
Harrington, who fired his attorney and served as his own counsel during the trial, also has regularly filed last-minute motions “in order to obstruct and delay the proceedings,” Mejia said.
Harrington’s new attorney on Monday presented two character witnesses on behalf of his client. He asked for community service or home detention, stating Harrison was elderly, ill and not a danger to society.
Mejia chided Harrington for walking out on an earlier sentencing hearing, which landed him a 12-day jail stint for contempt of court. Harrington asked the judge not to “equate (his) foolishness with being a criminal.”
Mejia chastised Harrington for pandering to the media, then playing the age/illness card instead of having the courage of his one-time very public convictions.
“You put yourself forward as to the public as some kind of a crusader for property rights,” Mejia said. “I’m not saying you’re a horrible, bad man. But I find you have been dishonest with the court. You have been nothing but willful.”
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail email@example.com.
Attendance: Bill Smith, Angela Price, Don Horton, Michelle Healy, Jim Figurski, Mel Oberst, (Matt Shinderman – absent)
Update on project management:
Jim shared preliminary drafts of:
a Site Context Map illustrating the river corridor from below the Pacific Power Dam to the Colorado Dam
an Opportunities & Constraints Diagram
site photos, and
preliminary contour information for the Mirror Pond reach
The committee provided comments and suggestions for edits and inclusions on each map
There was a general discussion of the role of the Steering Committee vs. the role of the Management Board
It was pointed out that David Rosell had previously been elected the chair of the Management Board
It was suggested that Jim Figurski contacted Mr. Rosell to discuss his willingness to continue in that role and manage the Management Board meetings
Jim provided a general outline for the Visioning process to come
Don expressed concern that if the dam was removed the change in water levels in Mirror Pond could detract from the proposed work on the Colorado Safe Passage project
Don indicated there were 800 floaters/hour coming from McKay Park to Mirror Pond in the peak season and he did not want to see that use disrupted
Jim indicated that the engineers on the Mirror Pond project were the same as the Colorado Safe Passage project and that the consultants had been made aware that this was an issue
The issue of the Historic designation for the Pacific Power Dam and Powerhouse was discussed and it was suggested that the Steering Committee invite Heidi Kennedy to the next Steering Committee Meeting.
Jim indicated that he was in the process of forming a Technical Advisory Committee to assist in the review of work products from the consultant team and to assist as project experts in future public outreach efforts