As bodies of water go, Mirror Pond is something of a rock star, at least in central Oregon. It’s on Bend’s official city seal and beer drinkers may know it from the Deschutes Brewery pale ale named in its honor. But Mirror Pond only exists because of a dam on the Deschutes river that’s more than 100 years old and it hasn’t been dredged in 30 years. The resulting build up of silt is both impacting native species and providing a serious ick factor for recreational river users.
The city of Bend has actively sought input from residents (who seem to be divided on the issue) and is now beginning the process of winnowing the options on the table.
As city officials admit, the funding for this project remains an “open question.”
How important do you think Mirror Pond is to the culture and landscape of Bend? What do you think should happen with Mirror Pond?
GUEST: Jim Figurski: Project manager, Bend Parks & Recreation District
The art of figuring out what to do with Bend’s Mirror Pond requires answers to specific questions: What does the community want? What is the future of the dam?
The process Bend has used so far has discovered neither. It seemed determined to make a rendezvous with a destiny that didn’t include figuring out what the community should do.
The Bend City Council and the Bend Park & Recreation District Board have now formed a new committee.
Let’s try something different this time.
Let’s use the best methods to find out what the community wants.
Relying on online questionnaires may put a notch in somebody’s playbook of gathering community input. It doesn’t say much at all about what the community wants.
We know Bend’s leaders are acutely sensitive to having hefty community involvement, because it is important, and because of the questions the City Council took on its surface water project. It still needs to be a community process that will answer questions.
Do a scientific poll. Of course, polls have limitations. Short of a communitywide vote on every option, there is no better way.
But first, let’s find some answers about the dam and spell out for the public whatever is known about the ownership of the riverbottom.
Pacific Power can’t say how long it will keep the dam. Roger Raeburn, manager of dam safety at Pacific Power, doesn’t have a study that says the dam may last “x” more years.
That shouldn’t stop the new committee from getting answers on its own about what’s possible. For instance, does the city really have a chance to keep the dam if Pacific Power doesn’t want it?
No matter what is decided about Mirror Pond’s future, the leaders who make the decision are going to be beset with questions and complaints. That is part of leadership. Don’t set the new committee again on course to drift.
Thank you, Bruce Brothers, for your article of July 10 in The Bulletin regarding the Bend Park & Recreation District’s ideas for our beloved Mirror Pond. This idea of tall reeds and wetlands in our downtown park is so out of place. Instead of “Mirror Pond” they would call it “Mirror Mudflats.”
I answered the survey online with my thoughts, to dredge it and keep it the way it has been for years and years, and for years to come! When the lumber companies were in business, they dredged it when needed. It has been neglected for 30 years, so of course it needs attention. There shouldn’t be any discussion to do anything except dredge it.
The Bend Park & Recreation District has the money to dredge it, so there is no need to put another tax on property owners. This atrocity to even suggest that we turn this scenic downtown jewel into mudflats is absurd. The voters of Bend should make the decision in regard to Mirror Pond. Too many of our rights are being stripped away. I hope you agree with Bruce Brothers and many others, so we can keep our Mirror Pond and Drake Park as the icon of Bend.
Some things we just don’t tread on, and our Mirror Pond is one of them!
Tuesday’s Mirror Pond meeting with Bend Parks and Rec spilled into Wednesday night’s Bend City Council meeting, as residents took an opportunity to speak their piece.
Bend resident Foster Fell urged the council to support wide spread approval of how the project should proceed.
“But we do know we have a range of options evolved by the Mirror Pond project. These choices are unlikely to change over time. Since these options were developed through public funding the public should be permitted to votes on which of the options it prefers.”
Fell also suggested that high school students in Bend should get to vote on the issue, because they will be responsible for the future.
Susan Crosby, who has lived across from the park for over 43 years, wants to keep Mirror Pond just as it is.
“Drake Park was developed around the pond. Its rock walls and walkways define its graceful edges. If the park and the pond are separated, Bend will lose much of what makes it such a special place. As an environmentalist, I appreciate wild and natural rivers, but Mirror Pond is Bend’s icon and we must not let it go.”
Crosby went on to ask the council to choose Councilor Doug Knight to be on the Mirror Pond Steering Committee, because of his engineering background and community involvement in the neighborhood.
But the Council chose to appoint Councilors Marc Capell and Victor Chudowsky to the committee, because they had been working on the project since January.
Bend city councilors and park board members voted unanimously on Tuesday to form a new committee that will select a final plan for the future of Mirror Pond.
They also viewed the results of a recent community survey on four options for the pond.
But officials said before they can reach a decision they need to know Pacific Power’s plans for the Newport Avenue Dam, which created the pond.
“Certainly we should move forward and form a committee,” City Councilor Sally Russell said.
“But for me, in reading all the information provided to us and in preparing for this committee … I think it’s time to get Pacific Power at the table, and I think it’s time to understand what the future is of that dam, because I don’t see this community being able to make a financially responsible decision about the future of Mirror Pond before we understand what the constraints are around that dam,” Russell said.
Officials are discussing how to manage Mirror Pond because sediment is building up behind the dam and creating mudflats. Unless the community takes action, wetlands will develop and the state will begin regulating any activity that disrupts that habitat, Project Manager Jim Figurski said Tuesday.
“I think it’s time to bring in the governor’s office, our senators, Pacific Power, and really get some direction here,” Russell said. “It’s time to be clear and have them put their cards on the table, because they’ve been holding them close.”
City Councilor Mark Capell agreed. Capell said he appreciates that the power company does not want to make the decision for the community.
“That’s really nice of them,” Capell said. “But let’s get down to reality, which is what’s the business decision?”
Pacific Power representatives have repeatedly said they will continue to operate the hydropower plant at the dam as long as it makes financial sense for their customers, and they do not have a specific end date for the project. Angela Jacobson Price, regional community manager for Pacific Power, reiterated the position on Monday in response to questions from local officials. Price is a member of the Mirror Pond Steering Committee, which has provided oversight during the process to develop options for the future of the body of water.
The owner of the dam — whether it is Pacific Power or another owner in the future — is responsible for maintaining the structure and, if it decides to remove it, for the cost to take it out and mitigate impacts to the river.
The new Mirror Pond committee will have up to nine members, including park board members Scott Wallace and Ted Schoenborn, parks Executive Director Don Horton, Bend Community Development Director Mel Oberst, two city councilors and as many as three citizens. The City Council did not decide Tuesday which councilors will serve on the committee.
The community survey data that Figurski presented at the joint meeting of the City Council and park board Tuesday did not show a clear preference among respondents for how local governments should manage Mirror Pond. The questionnaire asked people to rate several options, including dredging sediment from the pond, doing nothing and rerouting the river channel and removing the dam.
More than 1,200 people participated in the survey and when they were asked to rank the four options, 41 percent said their favorite option would be to dredge Mirror Pond and leave the dam in place, according to results provided by the park district. However, 36 percent said they would prefer to realign the river and remove the dam. The survey was not scientific, because people opted in by going online to fill it out.
The utility that owns the century-old dam that creates Bend’s iconic Mirror Pond says it still hasn’t made any decisions about it’s long-term plans of the dam.
Dam removal is one option city leaders are considering as they try to address decades of sediment build-up in the river.
The ultimate decision on whether to remove the dam will fall to its owner, PacifiCorp.
The utility had hoped a recent non-scientific survey would provide some direction but residents appear to be split on the question.
Spokesman Bob Gravely while still in operation, it’s only a matter of time before a major upgrade makes it no longer cost effective. He says at that point, the dam could be removed or a transfer of ownership might be possible.
“So I think there’s ways to pursue this on any number of fronts, but it could go any different direction. So it’s been our hope that we would have a sense of what the community wants before going too far down any of those paths,” said Gravely.
Last week, Bend’s city council and local parks district formed a committee to move toward preferred alternative.
At today’s joint City of Bend, Oregon Government Council and the Bend Park & Recreation District Board meeting, Councilor Mark Capell helped to propagate one of Mirror Pond’s craziest and most ignorant myths: “Mirror Pond never had a problem with silt until after the mills quit dredging the mill pond in the 1980s.” Mirror Pond has had a problem with silt and weeds since the 1920s. Here is an example from the 1950s.
If the community wants to preserve Bend’s Mirror Pond, it all comes down to the dam. Will Pacific Power maintain it? If not, is there any way for the community to take it over or otherwise preserve its pond-creating effect?
If the answer to both of those questions is no, options to save the pond in its traditional form are severely limited.
Yet both the park district and the power company report they haven’t tried to find those answers, because they’re waiting to see what the community wants.
They supposedly will learn about the community’s desires today when survey results are presented to a joint meeting of the Bend City Council and the Bend Park & Recreation District board.
But today’s presentation won’t actually tell them what residents prefer; it will tell them only what a few self-selected people think. An unscientific survey will be offered, and may be interpreted as meaning far more than it does.
The park district’s Mirror Pond Project Manager, Jim Figurski, and Pacific Power’s Regional Community Manager, Angela Price, say they will consider the questions about the dam only once this process tells them what the community wants.
That’s backwards, because the community can’t know what it wants, or what it’s willing to pay for, unless it knows the dam’s future.
Figurski said he expects the council and park board to identify a preferred option by the end of the month. Then the work starts on the details of how it could be accomplished and at what cost.
We’ve argued repeatedly for preserving Mirror Pond, but the future of the dam is critical. It would be foolish to spend millions dredging the pond if the dam that makes it possible has a short-term future. We hope the decision-makers will put the survey results in proper perspective and demand real information before narrowing the options.
Bend Park and Recreation officials expect to share on Tuesday the results of an online survey aimed at gauging public opinion on the future of Mirror Pond.
Access to the online questionnaire closed Friday. The results are expected to be aired publicly at a joint meeting of the Bend City Council and the Bend Park & Recreation District Board of Directors.
A late surge in participation pushed the number of completed questionnaires to more than 1,200, according to Jim Figurski, a consultant hired by the park district to help determine what to do about siltation in Mirror Pond. As recently as June 25 — about three weeks after the online questionnaire was activated — just 210 people had participated.
The questionnaire provided seven scenarios along with rough cost estimates and the benefits and drawbacks of each, from doing nothing, to removing the dam downstream of the Newport Bridge and allowing the river to find its own course, to dredging to deepen the pond. Because the dam slows the river current at Mirror Pond, suspended silt and other particles drop out of the water and accumulate on the bottom. The warmer, shallower water provides substandard fish habitat, and allows aquatic plants to take hold.
Figurski said while the results he’ll be sharing Tuesday are not as accurate a measure of public opinion as a formal poll, the participation level suggests the City Council and the park board will have meaningful information to consider.
“If it were that original number, I would have been disappointed and a bit more nervous about it. I think the fact we reached 1,224 people is a good sign and will certainly give decision makers a little more comfort in taking whatever information they want to take from the questionnaire,” he said.
Bend Mayor Jim Clinton is looking forward to seeing the questionnaire results, but said the results shouldn’t be interpreted as a vote on how to proceed.
“The questionnaire itself is one part of a much bigger program to figure out what to do about Mirror Pond,” Clinton said. “It’s not the controlling part or even necessarily the most important part. It was intended, I think in my mind, to get more people thinking about the different options.”
Clinton said that over the last 10 years, the idea of doing something about Mirror Pond has been discussed, the “dredge it and be done with it” has diminished in popularity, as support for a flowing river has risen. Though both camps still dominate the discussion, Clinton said the public process has helped expose the complexity of the issue and the drawbacks of “simplistic solutions.”
“It continues to be a polarized issue where each person has their own way of looking at it, and over the period I’ve been involved in it, people are now maybe thinking about it in a more comprehensive and realistic way than they might have been looking at it before,” he said.
Park district Chairman Scott Wallace could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Clinton said he’s hopeful the city, park district and other stakeholder groups can be in agreement by the end of the year, with a broadly supported plan, estimates of how much it might cost and where funding could be found, and a loose timeline for moving forward.
Figurski said he will be providing information rather than making any recommendations to the City Council and the park board on Tuesday. He said he anticipates another round of public outreach in September once a preferred alternative on how to proceed is identified.
A title company asked to verify the claims of a family that purports to own the land beneath Mirror Pond said this week it cannot do so.
For the last year, officials have said the land beneath the pond belongs to the heirs of Clyde McKay, who moved to Bend in 1911 and shaped development of the town. According to the family story, McKay kept the land under the Deschutes River, when property along the river was divided into lots.
However, the story has proved difficult to substantiate the more people look into it. A search of Deschutes County Assessor’s records turned up no evidence that the McKay family owns or pays taxes on land under the Deschutes River. The Bend Park & Recreation District and the city of Bend have not obtained deeds or other documents to back up the McKay family’s ownership claims.
The Bulletin asked AmeriTitle to prepare a title report on land under Mirror Pond. On Thursday, Chuck Sheffield, a vice president of AmeriTitle, said the company could not provide a clear record of ownership.
“I don’t think we probably can produce anything for you that would be meaningful, given that it’s a body of water,” Sheffield said. “The ownership of the land under the body of water presents complex legal issues. I think any report that we were able to produce would likely say in the end it would take court interpretation to determine ownership under the pond.”
Sheffield said he was not familiar with details of AmeriTitle’s earlier research on Mirror Pond for Bill Smith, the developer of the Old Mill District and a member of the Mirror Pond Steering Committee.
The steering committee is taking a lead role in determining what should be done to address siltation in Mirror Pond. Last year, Smith asked a title company to research pond ownership, and he reported back to other committee members that the McKay family owns 90 percent of the land under Mirror Pond.
Several of the possibilities being considered by the steering committee — dredging Mirror Pond and using sediment to build out the river banks, removing the dam that created the pond, and other options — could create or uncover more dry land along the river, bringing the McKay family’s claim to the forefront.
“I think long term, it would be nice if it were in public ownership, so that’s something we probably need to talk to (the owners) about,” park district director Don Horton said recently. “It’s certainly used as a public resource and has been for 100 years.”
The park district board is scheduled to meet with the City Council on Tuesday, and Horton said they will spend part of the meeting behind closed doors, talking about pond ownership.
Horton recently met with AmeriTitle staff who researched pond ownership for Smith, and Horton said the company has a pile of documents several inches thick that support the McKay family’s claim to the land. The meeting cast some doubt on the validity of the family’s claim, Horton said.
“We’ve asked (an AmeriTitle employee), would he be willing to provide title insurance if we were to buy the property,” Horton said Thursday. The company was unsure it could provide title insurance, Horton said, and “if they’re not willing to provide title insurance, to me it just raises a question about ownership. Usually, when you buy a property, you can get title insurance.”
Bruce McKay, grandson of Clyde McKay, contends his family’s claim to the land is valid. McKay spoke with The Bulletin last year, but could not be reached for comment Thursday.
As for whether the McKay family would be willing to sell the land to the park district, “We haven’t looked into that in any detail,” Horton said.
The district bought submerged land as part of the acquisition for Miller’s Landing park, near Colorado Avenue. However, the property valuation in these cases focuses on how much the dry land is worth, Horton said.
“This one would be very unusual,” Horton said of a possible purchase of land under Mirror Pond. “If we were to go in and buy it, it would all be land under the water. How do you value that? We’ll have to have it appraised.”
“If the preferred alternative creates high and dry land on their property, then (the McKay family) could see it would have a higher value,” Horton said. “If we acquire it, we want to acquire it as land under the water.”
Horton said there is no incentive for the McKay family to provide proof that it owns the land under Mirror Pond.
“There’s nothing for them to gain,” Horton said. “They’ll just sit there and let it grow up.”