Agencies urge big look at little dam

Three governments with a stake in the fate of Mirror Pond are trying to convince federal decision-makers that a Bend hydroelectric project’s impact far outweighs it size.

In a joint submission being sent to Washington. D.C., today the city of Bend, Deschutes County and the Bend Metro Park and Recreation District are urging the Federal Energy· Regulatory Commission lo hold a local hearing on Pacific Power’s downtown hydro dam.

The company is seeking renewal of a 30·year license to operate the dam. The three entities want FERC to require a full environmental impact study. which could cost the company as much as $2 million.

They say such expense is warranted. even though the 83·year·old plant powers fewer than 500 homes and meets just 1 percent of Bend’s power needs. They want a chance to make their case in Bend.

The hydro project created Mirror Pond, which the local governments describe in their letter as a 40-acre Deschutes River reservoir that has become “a focal point of the community.”

Conservation groups, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Interior Department also have intervened. They are raising safety and environmental issues.

The local governments say Pacific Power “has not responded to these issues in any meaningful way.”

Their concerns· include the dam’s structural integrity and the effectiveness of on inflatable rubber tube. called a “crest.” that the company proposes to install along the top of the dam to prevent ice blockages.

Silt buildup caused by the dam is a major problem requiring periodic costly removal, they say. They cite one case in which a child became stuck waist-deep in silt.

Manv of the issues. such as ways to aid Deschutes river fish passage, need to be addressed even if the dam’s turbines are removed, the governments contend.

Duane Blackwelder, a Pacific Power employee, told city commissioners Wednesday that they could cut dredging costs by using a log to sweep the channel and pull up silt. He also raised a fairness issue, saying other dams along the river have escaped similar scrutiny because they don’t generate power.

Commissioner John Wujack responded, “We only have this opportunity for the next 30 years to improve this fish passage.”

Mayor Terry Blackwell said, “We didn’t say they have to dredge the pond, but to address the issue.”

Clark Satre, the company’s regional manager, said the agencies’ request for a larger study “implies that there have been no environmental studies or consideration, and that’s not tho case.”

The cost of energy from the plant, figured over a 30·year period, comes to 3.6 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to an estimated 4.7 cent cost for replacement power, Satre said.

He said, “One could argue that’s so small a difference, and so small a project, why would you worry about it? On the other hand, every resource is important as power demands increase.”

Source: The Bulletin ©1993

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