Bend council studies dredging Mirror Pond

For more than a year, the Bend City Council and staff have discussed what to do to keep Mirror Pond, the iconic symbol of Bend and heart of Drake Park, from turning into Mirror mudflats.

However, in the past six months those conversations have been occurring out of public view. City of Bend staff have met individually with councilors to discuss the possible dredging of Mirror Pond.

The Public Works Department, with the help of a consultant, developed a document suggesting that if nothing is done, the growing sediment may turn Mirror Pond into wetlands. That could put Mirror Pond under more stringent federal regulations, making the possible dredging of the pond even more difficult.

Though some councilors had conversations about dredging Mirror Pond as early as this summer, Bend Public Works Director Ken Fuller said the city has now decided to wait until recommendation comes back from a group studying the issue. It includes city staff and experts in habitat, hydrology and watersheds. A majority of councilors said they received the document created by staff and the consultant, but when asked, the city refused to release that document to The Bulletin.

Councilor Bruce Abernethy said he was told by city staff that part of Mirror Pond could be dredged this summer. Councilor John Hummel said he knew that Mirror Pond was approaching a crisis point very quickly and the City Council would have to take action soon on it.

“My understanding was all the council members had been prepped by the city manager and staff about the variety of options (for Mirror Pond),” Abernethy said.

Councilor Chris Telfer said she has yet to individually meet with the city staff to discuss Mirror Pond’s sediment issues. Telfer said it points to the problem of having the council break up into committees and give direction on important issues without the consensus of the whole council.

“There are a number of issues the whole council needs to be listening to,” Telfer said.

The December 2005 document, which circulated among city staff and councilors and has since been updated, suggested that some dredging might have to occur before the council developed a long-term solution, which could take a year or more.

The 25-page document stated that within a year or two, islands of built-up sediment could be officially classified as wetlands. Under federal law, the city of Bend could run the risk of having to mitigate the wetlands it removed during dredging.

“Without action the Pond will increasingly present odor and aesthetic problems, and the City would find itself in an adverse position regarding Federal requirements protecting wetlands,” the document states.

Fuller stressed that the December document was in draft form, and it was only intended for internal use and never meant for public view. Since the December version, which was obtained by The Bulletin from a source outside the city, the document has been modified, Fuller said. The latest update was made April 11, but Fuller refused to give The Bulletin an updated version.

“Nothing has been finalized. It is still a working document,” Fuller said.

Since the December document was finished, Fuller said, city staff had concluded that it would be at least a year or two before the emerging islands of sediment would turn into federally classified wetlands. With more time, Fuller said he fully intends to have a task force of community stakeholders, dubbed the technical committee, meet and come back with recommendations for what to do both short and long term.

And, Fuller noted that before Mirror Pond could be dredged, approvals and permits must be obtained from more agencies than just the City Council. He also said the city does not have plans to dredge Mirror Pond this summer.

Still some are questioning the city’s lack of openness throughout the process.

At an afternoon council retreat in November 2004, Ryan Huston, executive director for the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, discussed with the city the different alternatives for Mirror Pond. At that time, the council agreed Mirror Pond was an issue the entire community is concerned about.

“The question that I have, what happened to the very logical, thoughtful, rational process we were going through in 2004?” Huston said on Friday.

“In my mind, it doesn’t make sense to make a decision like that without any very transparent process,” he said.

Huston was among the members named to the technical committee, which has yet to meet. Not letting many of Central Oregon’s watershed professionals and organizations weigh in on Mirror Pond before the dredging begins could be a mistake, he said. He also said the decision should wait for technical data and studies.

“Wetlands won’t emerge immediately. We’re not talking about next week or even this summer or even next summer,” Huston said.

Since 1910, Mirror Pond has been an icon of Bend. It is even on the city’s logo. But for the last three decades, growing sedimentation on the river bed has been an increasing problem. At the heart of the issue is a decision: As one of Bend’s jewels, should Mirror Pond remain a pond or should the river be returned to its natural course.

Mirror Pond was formed when a power company owned by A.M. Drake installed a hydroelectric dam on the Deschutes River just past the Newport Bridge.

The city didn’t see a sedimentation problem until the mid-1970s when Brooks Scanlon took out its mill pond on the Deschutes River near Colorado Avenue. Logs had floated in the pond and as part of the mill’s operations, the pond was continually dredged.

When the mill pond went away, the banks of the Deschutes River returned to a more natural course. That section of the river became a narrower channel with water running more rapidly. Sediment that once stopped at the mill pond now continues downstream to be deposited at Mirror Pond.

And the city says the sedimentation is more than just a city problem. Water released from Wickiup Reservoir for irrigation generates more sediment than would occur naturally. The sudden changes in the river’s flow erode the stream banks and wash dirt and debris downstream.

In 1984, the city of Bend agreed to dredge Mirror Pond. It cost $312,000. 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.

Councilor Hummel said that Mirror Pond is once again approaching a crisis stage, with sediment so high near the Galveston Avenue Bridge that geese and swans are be able to walk across the pond and boats often bottom out on the river bed.

In the November 2004 meeting, the council looked at alternatives for Mirror Pond that included doing nothing; dredging the pond from bank to bank; just dredging the river’s channel; removing the dam; enhancing the wetlands; and restoring the river to its natural course. The solution could also be a combination of restoring the river and dredging.

Councilor Dave Malkin has been one member who has spoken out publicly about not wanting to see Mirror Pond go.

“I think that letting Mirror Pond be something other than what it has been and what it has been for a very long time is just wrong-headed,” Malkin said. “I think you will find a great number of people in Bend, Oregon, who will share that opinion about Mirror Pond.”

Malkin also said he is willing to wait for scientific information to come back before making a decision. Malkin noted that in a recent meeting with city staff on Mirror Pond, which was the only time he met individually with staff to discuss the issue, he was told the technical committee was going to meet first before the council decided on anything.

Huston said that when the technical committee finally meets, its members should come with an open mind, leaving the city of Bend’s document behind.

“The key is if we are going to have a good solution, we have to start with a clean slate. The technical committee will be ineffective if we are fed preconceived ideas,” Huston said.

Source: The Bulletin ©2006

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