Dam owner to talk privately about Mirror Pond

The Mirror Pond ad hoc committee met Tuesday to select which of its three members will meet privately with Pacific Power to discuss the future of Mirror Pond.

The utility owns the Newport Avenue dam that created Mirror Pond and operates a hydroelectric facility at the site.

A Pacific Power representative has said publicly that the company wants the community to decide the fate of the pond, which is a dammed section of the Deschutes River. However, Bend Park & Recreation District Executive Director Don Horton said Tuesday the company is ready to speak more frankly behind closed doors.

“I had a telephone call from Pacific Power,” Horton said. “They do want to be more engaged in the process now.”

The small group that will meet privately with Pacific Power includes Horton, park district lawyer Neil Bryant and city Councilor Mark Capell. The six-member Mirror Pond ad hoc committee planned to hold its meetings behind closed doors, but stopped the practice after just one meeting when at least one lawyer said it violated Oregon public meetings law.

The committee includes two Bend city councilors, two park board members, Horton, Bend Community Development Director Mel Oberst, and as many as three citizens who have not yet been selected.

Officials have acknowledged the Mirror Pond ad hoc committee is a public governing body and, under Oregon public meetings law, must hold its meetings in public. On Aug. 21, City Attorney Mary Winters said the ad hoc committee’s Aug. 13 closed-door meeting should have been public. However, the small group that will meet with Pacific Power is less than a quorum of the six-member committee, so it can meet behind closed doors and without notice.

Approximately 14 members of the public attended the ad hoc committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Horton said he wants to have Bryant attend meetings with Pacific Power because of the legal issues involved. The subgroup will likely meet with Pacific Power in early September and then report back to the full ad hoc committee later that month.

Mirror Pond Project Manager Jim Figurski said Tuesday that several people contacted him regarding their interest in serving on the committee. Horton said the district will advertise the citizen openings on the committee, and set a two-week deadline to submit applications.

At this point, the primary issues the ad hoc committee should explore are Pacific Power’s plans for the dam and how to handle ownership of land under Mirror Pond, Horton said. Park district officials have said they believe the McKay family, early landowners in Bend, owns the land under Mirror Pond. However, the family has never paid property taxes on the land, and a title company asked to verify the McKays’ claims of ownership said it cannot do so. Horton said in July it would be nice for a public entity to own the land under Mirror Pond. On Tuesday Horton said the McKay family would expect to receive payment for the submerged land, although park district officials have not discussed specific figures with the family.

Horton said Bryant is working with the title company, with the goal of getting the company to provide title insurance if the park district purchases land under Mirror Pond from the McKays. “He’s thinking that they will, but he has not heard a definitive answer on that,” Horton said.

Horton also said Bryant and an attorney for Pacific Power are researching whether the water rights associated with the Newport Avenue dam — which are currently tied to power generation — could be transferred to a different type of use and allow for the dam to remain in place.

“If the water right can be transferred, I think it opens up a whole new discussion about what the future of the pond might be,” Horton said.

Oberst said if the water rights transfer to a different owner, the state might require the new holder to install fish passage at the dam.

The Mirror Pond ad hoc committee decided not to schedule its next meeting until after the subgroup meets with Pacific Power, so it can report to the committee.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

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