Hydrologists discuss Mirror Pond

Hydrology experts assembled by the City Club of Central Oregon said Thursday there’s no urgency to develop a plan to address silt buildup in Mirror Pond, and suggested an approach somewhere between attempting to maintain the historic pond and removing the Newport Avenue Dam could win broad community support.

Hundreds filled a lecture hall at St. Charles Bend on Thursday to learn more about silt accumulation in the downtown Bend pond, formed by the construction of the dam 100 years ago and last dredged in 1984. In the years since then, the pond has become shallower, the result of silt washing into the Deschutes River upstream and settling on the bottom in the slow-moving waters of Mirror Pond.

Hydrologist Joe Eilers — who was joined by hydrologist Gabe Williams and Upper Deschutes Watershed Council Director Ryan Houston on the City Club panel — told the audience Thursday that dredging to preserve Mirror Pond as a pond is at best a short-term fix.

By deepening the channel, dredging causes the water to move even more slowly, Eilers said, allowing more silt to fall out of suspension rather than be carried further downstream. A pond like Mirror Pond will re-silt fastest in the first few seasons after dredging, he said, reaching 80 percent of its maximum silt-holding capacity within 10 years, and 90 percent within 20 years.

“If you’re going to go the full dredging route, you might as well buy a dredge, because you’ll be back there in the not-too-distant future,” Eilers said.

As of today, Mirror Pond probably has about 90 percent of the silt it can take, Eilers said, but it’s hard to know when it might reach 100 percent.

Icing during the winter has so far discouraged plants from taking root where they might turn shallows to dry land, he said, adding that even if the pond reaches its maximum silt-carrying capacity, the water should continue to flow.

Club member Jim Lussier, the former president and CEO of St. Charles Health System, asked the panelists what the long-term costs of doing nothing might be.

While Eilers focused on the cost of maintenance that is presumed to be needed on the aging PacifiCorp dam, Houston said the cost of inaction may be more abstract. Those who enjoy the views across the pond, its waterfowl, or paddling along the slow-moving waters could lose those amenities if Mirror Pond is left alone, he said.

“It’s not just the capital expenditures, it’s what do people care about,” Houston said.

Specifics of the future of the dam were left unaddressed Thursday. Although not on Thursday’s panel, Angela Price of PacifiCorp was in attendance. Price declined to elaborate on how long Pacifi- Corp intends to continue operating the dam, or what might happen if her company concludes the cost of upkeep outweighs its power-generating potential.

Taking out the dam completely would have a significant impact beyond the area commonly thought of as Mirror Pond, Houston said. Removing the dam would drop water levels directly behind the dam by 8 to 10 feet, he said, and the river would find a new channel through the main body of the pond. The effect could be noticeable as far upstream as McKay Park, where Houston said water levels could drop by a foot.

In response to an audience question, Houston said many of the consulting engineers working on possible solutions for Mirror Pond are also working on the Bend Park & Recreation District’s plans to develop a safe passage through the Colorado Avenue Dam spillway, and are confident they can find a way to make both projects work together.

The dam’s removal would be the best option for fish, Eilers said, lowering water temperatures and boosting the level of available dissolved oxygen by allowing the river to move faster. He said a faster-moving river through Drake Park would also be likely to drive off the geese that have multiplied in the area over the years.

Eilers suggested a fourth option — which he dubbed “designer dredging” — might be the easiest course of action. Such an approach could involve dredging out a defined channel while building up and “armoring” some areas where silt deposition is most pronounced. Other portions of the pond could be restored as above-water-level parkland, he said, such as the shallows in the wide bow just behind the Drake Park stage.

Mike Hollern, CEO of Brooks Resources and a pond-side resident, latched on to Eilers’ description of “designer dredging.” Hollern said his personal preference would be for the future pond to retain many of its present characteristics, but acknowledged that those who live closest to the water benefit most, and should contribute to a local improvement district to help pay for any work on the pond.

Hollern suggested a retaining wall backfilled with silt dredged from the pond could be used to expand Harmon Park on the west side of the river.

Houston said such a compromise could hit a “sweet spot” that could at least partially satisfy those who desire views, wildlife habitat and access to the water for recreation. Dry land for expanded parks could persuade the park district to buy in, Houston said, while developed wetlands that could help clean up the wastewater dumped into the pond by city storm drains could attract funding from the city or grants from clean water groups.

Gary Fish, founder of Deschutes Brewery, joked that the brewery would have to scrap “about 25 million pieces of printed material” depicting the pond that serves as the namesake of Mirror Pond Pale Ale, but echoed Houston’s comments about finding a middle ground between dam removal and repeated dredging.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to get everything they want, but they should get a lot of what they want,” Fish said.

Thursday’s forum was independent of an effort under way by the Mirror Pond Management Board, a group formed by the Bend City Council in 2009. The management board has an online questionnaire where local residents can share what they value about Mirror Pond and the Deschutes River at www.mirrorpondbend.com through Feb. 25. In March and April, the board will be using the public input it’s gathered to develop potential plans of action, including illustrations and cost estimates.

Past estimates have placed the cost of a 1984-style dredging at between $2 and $5 million.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

Crowd shows support for dam removal

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

Finding a fix for Mirror Pond

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Around 30 Bend residents turned out Wednesday night to weigh in on the future of Mirror Pond at the first of two public meetings hosted by the Mirror Pond Steering Committee.

The committee recently launched an outreach effort to determine what, if anything, should be done about the silt buildup that is slowly transforming the pond into a wetland. Through the end of the month, the committee will be using community meetings and a questionnaire to try to find out what Bend residents value about Mirror Pond. Starting in March, the committee expects to turn toward drawing up potential plans reflecting public preferences.

Jim Figurski, the project manager hired by the steering committee, said there are two “bookends” when thinking about what to do with the pond. One bookend would be a thorough dredging, returning the pond to a state similar to that when Mirror Pond was last dredged in 1984. The other bookend would be removing the Pacific Power dam that created the pond more than 100 years ago, he said, and allowing the river to return to its natural state.

Figurski spent an hour and a half fielding questions Wednesday night, with members of the audience suggesting both “bookend” alternatives and nearly everything in between.

An online questionnaire — available at mirrorpondbend.com — has already attracted nearly 1,000 responses, including half a dozen detailed proposals as to what should be done.

Jane Williamson, a resident of Harmon Avenue on the west side of Mirror Pond, recalled the 1984 dredging, accomplished for $300,000, a fraction of the $2 to $5 million estimates being floated today for similar work. It was a simple process, she said, and much of the silt harvested from the river bottom was sold back to local residents as “the best compost we ever had.”

Williamson said the process of deciding what to do has become overly bureaucratic, and she’s concerned those who live farther from Mirror Pond may not be supportive of a costly dredging operation.

“I would just be so sad if it went back to a river,” she said. “It’s a jewel, it’s the crown jewel of Bend.”

What Pacific Power elects to do with its dam could determine whether the pond remains a pond or becomes a section of the Deschutes River.

The dam, built in 1910, only provides electricity for around 400 homes, Figurski said. He said the utility is nearing the point where the revenue from power generation will be outweighed by the cost of upkeep. The utility could decide to dismantle or decommission the dam in the near future.

Multiple local residents took issue with the online survey, claiming it didn’t provide adequate opportunities for them to cast a vote for dam removal and a natural river approach.

Figurski said that while Pacific Power’s cooperation is needed to return the pond to a natural state, it’s still very much an option. If the pond were left alone and the dam were not removed, the small islands near the Galveston Avenue bridge would likely grow, he said, while shallows would grow even shallower and be taken over by grasses, cattails and similar plants.

“Doing nothing is actually doing something, because something will happen. Rivers evolve,” Figurski said.

Bend resident Bob Baer said he views the silt buildup behind the dam as similar to snow in a shopping center’s parking lot — it’s Pacific Power’s problem, and they should pay the bill.

“I don’t see the people of the city of Bend paying one dime to do maintenance for their business,” he said.

Baer said he wants local residents to have an opportunity to vote before any money is spent to address silt buildup.

Figurski said the public will likely have an opportunity to vote when the time comes. The process is at a very early stage, and even if a plan with broad community support emerges by early summer — as is the goal — funding has not been identified.

A second public meeting is scheduled from 6:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Bend Park & Recreation District offices, 799 S.W. Columbia St.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

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

River likely to be crowded

With temperatures expected to be around 90 today and edging to within sight of triple digits on Sunday, crowds likely will be flocking to lakes and rivers around Central Oregon looking for a chance to cool off.

Although high-profile, recreational drownings have been rare, a handful of floaters, swimmers and boaters are killed every year in Central Oregon waters. Bend Deputy Fire Marshal Cindy Kettering said most accidents on the water are avoidable.

For river floaters, Kettering advises people to steer clear of cheap flotation devices.

“No pool toys,” she said. “Pool toys such as the flimsy air mattresses and the things people get out there on that are designed for still water like a swimming pool as opposed to a river with rocks and limbs and other things that could puncture it.”

River users need to know where they’re going before they get into the water. Kettering said nearly every year, the fire department encounters a river floater who put in at Meadow Camp planning to float in to Bend, unaware of the sizable rapids they would encounter. Floaters or boaters should scout their route by land before launching.

Even on well-traveled routes like the Deschutes River float through Bend’s Old Mill District, Kettering said people need to remain aware of their surroundings. Despite an abundance of warning signs advising floaters where to exit the river, nearly every year a few people end up going through the Colorado Dam spillway, Kettering said. Floaters went though the spillway at least twice last year, and in 2006, a woman was pulled though the spillway and killed.

Alcohol is a common factor in water accidents, Kettering said, and should be avoided by anyone planning on boating or floating.

While not legally required for most river floating, Kettering said a life jacket is still a good idea. Inflatables such as inner tubes that are bound together are considered boats under state law, she said, and users are required to carry one life jacket for every person aboard — the same rule that applies to canoes, ski boats, fishing boats and other craft. Children 12 and younger are required to wear a life jacket while on a boat.

“Whether you’re a good swimmer or a poor swimmer or somewhere in between, anybody can get in trouble out there on the water, and a life jacket can be the difference between making it out and not,” she said.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

Mirror Pond dredging debated

Momentum is swinging toward putting a bond before voters in November to fund the dredging of Bend’s Mirror Pond.

Friday, members of the Mirror Pond Management Board met to consider options for cleaning the pond, which has been filling with sediment since it was last dredged 28 years ago. Until recently, the board had been leaning toward commissioning a study to determine how to address the sedimentation problem, and possibly creating a special taxing district that could provide a long-term funding stream for upkeep of the pond.

After Friday’s meeting, the board is now moving in the direction of a dredge-first, ask-questions-later approach.

Dredging will inevitably be part of cleaning up Mirror Pond, members indicated, and the public is unlikely to be willing to foot the bill for further study.

“I don’t see the public supporting a study — just a study alone,” said board member and Bend City Councilor Tom Greene. “They want results.”

A steering committee assembled by the board concluded that dredging should come before an extensive study. A comprehensive study would cost about $500,000, and none of the organizations represented on the board — including the city, Bend Park & Recreation District, Pacific Power and Bill Smith Properties — are willing to provide the funding.

Parks District director Don Horton said it’s not clear how much public support there is for a bond or a taxing district. To find out, the park district will include questions about the project on a soon-to-be-conducted survey of residents.

In the meantime, Bend community development director Mel Oberst will be directing his staff to develop better estimates of the cost of dredging, and to research the extent of federal and state permitting that would be required.

Current cost estimates for dredging the pond are between $2 million and $5 million. The last dredging in 1984 was performed for $312,000.

Not all members of the board are committed to the new direction. Ryan Houston, executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, cautioned that board members could be “shooting ourselves in the foot” by proceeding with dredging ahead of a thorough study. A dredging that fails to take into account how water moves through the area could result in the pond silting up soon after the work is completed, he said, requiring additional costly measures.

Unless measures are taken to remove the silt from the pond, it is believed the river will eventually recede to a narrow channel lined by swampy shallows on either side. Horton said the area just upstream of the Colorado Avenue bridge, an area that was once routinely dredged when it served as a log storage pond, is a good model of what an unaltered Mirror Pond might look like in 50 years.

Source: The Bulletin

New concepts for Miller’s Landing

Dozens of Bend residents turned out at an open house Thursday, taking an opportunity to weigh in on plans for the city’s next riverfront park.

The Bend Park & Recreation District is on an aggressive schedule to begin construction on the park at Miller’s Landing, across the Deschutes River from McKay Park, by next spring or summer.

Thursday, the district invited the public to view three concept drawings of what the nearly five-acre park could include and to offer their feedback.

Robin Laughlin, project manager for the district, said the public has expressed a preference for a lower-intensity park than McKay Park, the grassy expanse just downstream from the Colorado Avenue spillway popular with summer river floaters. All three plans call for much more limited river access than at McKay Park, with native plants covering the majority of the area along the water’s edge.

Laughlin said three concepts — plans A, B and C — reflect diminishing degrees of development. While plan A features community gardens, a picnic shelter and three river access points, including an off-leash dog beach, plan C has only two small river access points and is dominated by native plants and grassy areas.

All three concepts include public restrooms, the feature most requested by participants at prior public input sessions.

No plans for skatepark

Despite extensive lobbying by skateboarders earlier this year, none of the concepts include a skate park. Bruce Ronning, the district’s director of planning and development, said the district is actively looking for a place to locate a new skate park on the west side, but doesn’t believe it would be a good use of limited riverfront park space.

Laughlin said the district is likely to mix and match different elements from all three concepts in developing its official master plan this winter.

Two design elements captured much of the attention from participants in the open house, who left their comments on sticky notes tacked up next to images of the three concepts: the off-leash beach included in Plan A, and parking in the alley behind Gilchrist Avenue, included in plans A and C.

Both plans were unpopular.

Bob Almquist, who lives on Gilchrist Avenue, said while he has no problem with dogs, they don’t mix well with the park’s focus on boating and floating. A frequent kayaker, Almquist said he’s vulnerable to being tipped over by swimming dogs when he’s in his boat. Off-leash dogs are unlikely to remain on the designated beach, he said, and are likely to cut through the proposed stands of native plants, damaging the plants and creating erosion of the banks.

Almquist said he’s mixed on parking along the Gilchrist Avenue alley. While a parking lot off the alley could slow traffic, he said, it could also create conflicts with the walkers and cyclists who use the alley.

Dagmar Eriksson, who lives on the bluff overlooking the park site, said she leans toward plan B as the best way to both provide river access and preserve riparian areas. She said she often sees boaters who launch or land from the site damaging the banks by pulling their boats through the bushes along the banks, and would like to see designated launch sites at the future park.

Eriksson said she thinks an off-leash area would create conflicts with other users of the park. Across the river at McKay Park, too many dog owners already let their dogs run free and fail to pick up their waste, she said.

One participant left a note suggesting the development of an off-leash beach doesn’t go far enough.

“This should be a dog sanctuary,” the note read. “The anti-dog people are giving Bend a bad name.”

Eriksson and Almquist both said they expect the park district will do a good job, and that any park is a more welcome addition to the neighborhood than the residential development that had been proposed for the site just a few years ago.

In 2006, Brooks Resources and the Miller Lumber family were given approval to build 37 townhomes on the site. Economic conditions stalled the project, and late last year, the Trust for Public Lands purchased the property in order to transfer it to the park district.

“This is just frosting on the cake, the fact this is a park and not condominiums,” Almquist said.

The park district is continuing to accept public input on the Miller’s Landing project.

Source: The Bulletin ©2011