As it did more than two decades ago, the city of Bend has taken the lead in deciding what should be done about the sediment buildup in the city’s iconic Mirror Pond.
But some at the city also believe the responsibility for the long-term solution should be one that is shared by the pond’s property owners and other state and local agencies.
The first and last time the city dredged Mirror Pond was 1984. The cost to do so was $302,000, much of which came from federal grants. At the time, the project engineer predicted that unless changes were made to the management of upstream flow, Mirror Pond would have to be dredged in another 20 years.
In the latest round of discussion on what to do with Mirror Pond, the city has issued a report on the increasing silt buildup in the pond, applied for federal money to help with a long-term solution and formed a committee of water experts to give advice on what the city should do next.
The committee of water experts has said that dredging to some degree must occur on Mirror Pond if it is to remain as it is, but they also suggest a variety of long-term solutions to the problem.
Even so, the city is not under any legal responsibility for Mirror Pond – in fact it owns just slivers of land along its banks. The largest landowner by far is the Bend Metro Park and Recreation District, which manages almost 18 acres of park land around the pond. The rest of the land belongs mainly to a few dozen homeowners.
Under state law, the Oregon Department of State Lands has jurisdiction on rivers that are considered navigable. For those that are not, such as the Deschutes River, the property owners along the banks of the river own the submerged land to the center of the river channel.
City Councilor Jim Clinton, who leads the committee that has been charged to come up with recommendations, said the city is right in taking the lead in coming up with a solution for Mirror Pond, which is part of the city’s logo.
“The Deschutes River and Mirror Pond are the jewel and crown that is Bend, Oregon. Therefore, the city feels responsible for keeping it the best it can be,” Clinton said.
However, compared to 22 years ago when the city last dredged Mirror Pond, a fix will most likely be three to four times more expensive and come with many more federal and state regulations, Clinton said. It’s a “different world,” he said.
In a report that will likely be released to Bend city councilors next month, the committee of water experts concluded that for Mirror Pond to remain the wide-open pool it is today, some dredging must occur. But once the sediment is removed, the city should take steps to ensure it won’t have to dredge so much in the future.
Today, water levels are so shallow during the year that sandbars have emerged with trees and shrubs, plants poke through the water and in some places, geese can stand in the center of the river.
Mirror Pond is not a natural feature. Part of the Deschutes River that spans from the Tumalo Avenue Bridge to the Newport Avenue Bridge, Mirror Pond was formed in 1910 when a power company installed a hydroelectric dam on the Deschutes River just north of Newport bridge.
Sedimentation was not an issue until the mid-1970s, when the lumber mills upstream stopped using the river to float logs. Because the pond is unnaturally wide, the river slows down and deposits the sediment it has picked up along the way.
To help decide what Mirror Pond should look like in the future and who will help maintain it, Mayor Bill Friedman believes that a committee should be formed in addition to the group of technical experts who have been meeting.
“Partnerships seem important,” Friedman said.
The group should include state and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the property owners along the banks, the owners of the two dams near Mirror Pond and irrigation districts, he said.
“To me the worst thing that could happen is to have community interests doing different things on the river at the same time,” Friedman said.
Of the property owners along Mirror Pond, the Bend park and recreation district would be the most impacted by any changes to the pond.
The park district manages five different parcels that border Mirror Pond: Drake Park, Mirror Pond Park, Harmon Park, Pageant Park and land next to the Newport bridge. The district also maintains boat launches on the pond, which is a favorite Bend spot for flat water kayaking and canoeing.
The park district has owned most of that park land near the pond since the district was formed in 1974, said Bruce Ronning, the district’s director of planning and development.
As the city did in the last round of dredging, Ronning said he believed Mirror Pond is an issue the city should be heading.
“I think the city should be the lead on it. It is a citywide issue, not just a property owners-issue along Mirror Pond,” he said.
Ronning, who was one of the members on the city’s committee of water experts, said during those meetings he made suggestions on how the sediment should be managed at Mirror Pond.
However, the park board of directors have not made any decisions on what it would like Mirror Pond to look like in the future and has not discussed the issue formally, Ronning said.
Some of the long-term solutions mentioned in the technical committee’s report to prevent sediment from growing in Mirror Pond would affect park land. For instance, one of the suggestions is to replace concrete walls surrounding the pond with more natural vegetation, which would prevent erosion.
Another idea is to relocate some of the silt dredge from the bottom of Mirror Pond to the shore line of park land, which would make the parks a little larger.
“We certainly want to be consulted and involved in any discussions that might directly impact the park,” Ronning said. “Beyond that, I don’t know what our role might be.”
Friedman said the two boards should meet to discuss Mirror Pond.
The park district might not be the only property owner along Mirror Pond that are seen as partners in the long-term fix. Clinton said that one of the ideas is forming a local improvement district, where the majority of property owners in a designated area agree to tax themselves to collect money for improvements.
Mike Hollern, who has lived along Mirror Pond for more than 30 years and is the CEO for Bend-based development company Brooks Resources Corp., said he was among those who has suggested the idea of a local improvement district, a cost that would be shared based on how much linear footage the properties have along the pond.
“The (properties) arguably benefit from having an attractive river in front of it,” Hollern said. “So it is fair.”
Through a local improvement district, adjacent property owners could help fund restoration projects that occur along their banks, Clinton said. Some property owners have already done projects on their land that decrease the amount of sediment deposited into Mirror Pond.
Hollern said he is glad the city is making Mirror Pond a “high priority” and “moving in a direction that will likely lead to action.”
Part of the discussion of who is responsible for Mirror Pond is linked to who should pay to fix it.
“Ideally, we would get some kind of grant from outside. We don’t essentially have any money to use for the project,” Clinton said.
It is the city’s responsibility, Clinton said, to design projects that can attract grant dollars.
This spring, the city submitted a federal appropriations request to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s office for $2 million for “short-term minimal dredging project that would prevent wetlands from emerging.” The city did not receive that earmark, but Public Works Director Ken Fuller said they will try again.
Clinton said fixes to Mirror Pond will likely run in the millions of dollars.
Ronning said the park district hasn’t been asked to contribute monetarily to the long-term solutions at Mirror Pond.
Friedman said the mix of who pays will likely depend on what solutions the community wants. One option, he said, could be to do nothing, which would be fairly cheap.
Source: The Bulletin ©2006