A crowd of 30 to 40 made the case Tuesday night for knocking down the Newport Avenue dam and letting the Deschutes River flow at a meeting concerning the future of Mirror Pond.
At the second of two meetings hosted by the Mirror Pond Steering Committee, the group assembled to determine what, if anything, should be done about silt accumulation in the pond in the heart of Bend. The artificial pond created by construction of the Newport Avenue Dam in 1910 was last dredged in 1984. The committee is trying to determine if the community would support additional dredging, or other measures to return the pond to something closer to a free-flowing river.
Between community meetings and an online questionnaire available at mirrorpondbend.com, the committee will be taking public input through the end of the month. Starting in March, the committee expects to turn toward drawing up potential plans reflecting public preferences, and by May or June, select a single plan with broad community support.
Jim Figurski, a landscape architect hired by the Bend Park & Recreation District to serve as project manager, moderated Tuesday’s meeting. Unlike a similar meeting a week earlier, the overwhelming majority in attendance spoke in favor of dam removal and river restoration.
Several took Figurski to task for the wording of the online questionnaire, suggesting the questions asked made it very difficult for those who support letting the river flow to voice their opinions.
Barb Campbell, a downtown business owner and 2012 city council candidate, said even if the majority of Bend residents preferred a free-flowing river, they couldn’t make that known through the questionnaire.
Campbell said she found the questionnaire condescending, as it provided few details on what would need to be done to achieve different possible outcomes.
“It’s like asking a child, ‘if you had a pony, would you like a pink pony, or a black pony?’” Campbell said. “Do the pink ponies even exist, and how much do they cost?”
Figurski said the questionnaire is seeking to ascertain community values by asking questions about views, wildlife habitat and use of the river for recreation. In the second phase beginning next month, the plans drawn up by the committee will look to develop plans that respond to the value preferences expressed by citizens.
Dwight Pargee noted that the questionnaire was phrased from “a human perspective,” and asked what might be possible if the committee approached the problem with an eye toward maximizing trout habitat.
Figurski said for now, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will not require the committee to take fish habitat into consideration when developing a plan for Mirror Pond, but that habitat restoration could be a part of the draft plans that will be developed this spring. Mirror Pond is currently not a particularly healthy place for trout, Figurski said, as the water is often excessively warm in summer and decaying vegetation reduces the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.
Many in attendance wondered how the river would change if the dam were removed, asking where the river would likely establish its channel, and how far upstream the effects of dam removal would be noticeable.
Figurski said scientists working with the committee intend to answer such questions as the process moves into its next phase, adding a free-flowing river can be many different things. The free-flowing portions of the Deschutes River upstream and downstream of Bend change significantly from one place to another, he said.
“The river has so many different looks, and we have that option if the dam goes away,” Figurski said.
Pacific Power has not committed to keeping the dam in place indefinitely. The dam only generates enough electricity to power around 400 homes, Figurski said, and mounting maintenance costs could make its continued operation unfeasible.
Vanessa Ivey said she’s heard from a lot of people deeply concerned about the historical value of both the dam and Mirror Pond. Though both have historical value, Ivey said she’d like the committee to remember that the Deschutes is a highly manipulated river along its entire length, and that the river as a whole defines Central Oregon more than just Mirror Pond.
“Whatever happens, it will never be the Mirror Pond of 1920, 1930, 1940, and it will never be the Deschutes River of 1903,” Ivey said.
Source: The Bulletin ©2013