Survey seeks Mirror Pond solution

The way forward for Mirror Pond should be known by June.

On Wednesday, members of the Mirror Pond Steering Committee discussed the launching of a public outreach process intended to determine what — if anything — should be done about the silt buildup that is slowly turning the pond into a mudflat.

In the interest of gathering public input, the committee has created a website including a questionnaire asking residents what they value about Mirror Pond, and has scheduled two public meetings early next month.

Under the schedule laid out by the committee, January and February will be spent using the survey results, meetings and other means to identify community feelings about Mirror Pond. March and April will be spent developing up to four possible courses of action, including cost estimates, that could preserve or enhance those things local residents enjoy about the pond at the heart of Bend. In May and June, a second round of public outreach will be held to develop a preferred plan.

Created with the construction of the Pacific Power and Light dam in 1910, Mirror Pond has been dredged to remove silt buildup once before, in 1984. The dredging cost $312,000, but more recent estimates have projected it would cost $2 million to $5 million to dredge the pond today.

Two factors somewhat out of the control of the committee and local government could stymie any plans that come out of the public outreach process.

The McKay family of Portland claims ownership of most of the land beneath Mirror Pond, property that was left over when Clyde McKay’s early Bend real estate company platted the lots west of the water. And, PacificCorp, successor to Pacific Power and Light, has not committed to operating the aging dam, which makes the pond possible in the first place, into the indefinite future.

Committee member Don Horton, director of the Bend Park & Recreation District, said the McKay family’s claim will need to be sorted out before any actual work can begin. For now, the McKays are insisting they be released from any liability in the event contaminants are found in the silt beneath the pond. Horton said it’s unlikely the silt is contaminated — nothing was found during the 1984 dredging, and there’s been no polluting industry upstream since — but the park district or the city needs to be cautious about assuming ownership or liability for the McKay holdings.

“It’s probably a low risk — but it is a risk,” he said.

Jim Figurski, the Mirror Pond project manager employed by the park district, said uncertainty surrounding the future of the dam will be a challenge for the committee. Whatever approach comes out of the public process — whether complete dredging, partial dredging or no dredging at all — Figurski said removing the dam would so alter the landscape that the public might demand a new approach.

Ryan Houston, executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and a committee member, said a preview of what Mirror Pond will eventually look like if the dam remains and nothing is done can be seen less than a mile upriver.

Upstream from the Colorado Avenue bridge, the stand of cattails and other aquatic plants near the spot where river floaters exit was once a dredged pond, Houston said, used by nearby timber mills to store logs awaiting processing. When the mills closed down and regular dredging ended, silt and vegetation reclaimed the area, he said.

“That’s Mirror Pond 30 years from now under the do-nothing scenario,” he said.

Figurski said that while the online questionnaire and accompanying outreach efforts won’t be a scientific poll of the community, he’s optimistic they’ll help the committee put together an accurate picture of what Bend residents want for one of the city’s most iconic features.

“You can do anything, its a matter of time, energy and money, and what you want to see at the end of that,” he said.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

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