Mirror Pond poll is unscientific

We all know that most online surveys, questionnaires and polls are unscientific and easily influenced by an organized group on one side of an issue. And yet we proceed to discuss them as if they meant something about general public opinion.

That’s an important risk in Bend’s ongoing effort to decide what to do about Mirror Pond.

The Mirror Pond Steering committee has spent January and February collecting responses to an online questionnaire and holding informational meetings. The City Club of Central Oregon hosted a meeting where hydrologists presented options and audience members expressed opinions. And now the Old Bend Neighborhood Association has presented the results of its online survey.

Although we haven’t yet seen results from the steering committee’s questionnaire, the neighborhood association and some of the meetings appear to support one approach over others. Therein lies the risk. If those conclusions get enough attention, they could seem to represent a community consensus even though they are totally unscientific and may or may not have broad support.

Some consider Mirror Pond to be the iconic center of Bend and favor dredging to restore it. Others say the dam that created the pond more than 100 years ago should be removed and the river returned to its natural state. A middle ground has also been proposed that preserves some but not all of the pond.

Complicating matters is the high cost of most solutions, issues about ownership of the land beneath the pond and how long Pacific Power will be willing to maintain the dam.

Only two things seem clear at this stage: 1) A significant portion of the community does care a lot about this issue; and 2) There’s great division about the right course of action.

The steering committee plans to use information from its own online and meeting efforts to develop up to four possible courses of action for further consideration. A new round of public comment is scheduled for May and June to get reaction to those plans.

Engaging the public was a wise move, but the notion that the process will arrive at consensus seems unrealistic. A scientific poll could tell us something about what people want, but it may take a vote to tell us what they’d be willing to pay for.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

Pick a future for Mirror Pond

Engineering built Mirror Pond. Not nature. And now, Bend is trying to decide the pond’s future.

Mirror Pond has been Bend’s centerpiece since 1910. It is the source of so many memories — floating Christmas parades gliding across the water with twinkling lights, furious clashes of plastic ducks, and river floaters clambering out to float down the Deschutes again. Mirror Pond is one of the images Bend projects to the world.

Get close, though, and Mirror Pond is becoming Mirror Mudflat. Silt is building up because the river dawdles before the dam near Newport Avenue.

The options for the pond’s future are acutely different. Some want the dam taken out and the river restored to a more natural state. Others want to do what’s necessary to keep the pond.

There are complications. Where will the money to pay for any option come from? Dredging would need to be done again and again. The dam is old and owned by Pacific Power. And those are not the end of the complications.

On Tuesday, the Mirror Pond Steering Committee hosted the second of two public hearings on the pond. A crowd of at least 30 made the case for taking out the dam. At the previous hearing, the sentiment tilted toward keeping the pond.

It’s dangerous to conclude much from these two early public hearings. And it won’t be much easier to conclude anything from the responses to the committee’s online questionnaire, either. It’s not a poll that attempts to be a statistical sampling of opinion. Don Horton, the executive director of the Bend Park & Recreation District, told us the purpose is to get as many people involved in the process as possible.

That’s admirable, of course, but the choice to use an online questionnaire rather than something more scientific will make it easier to criticize any decisions the committee makes.

After this phase of the questionnaire and public meetings, options will be developed with costs and funding. The strengths and weaknesses of each option will be presented. There will be more meetings. By June, the plan is to “create (a) preferred vision based on public response.”

The steering committee is the decision-making authority on this stage of the plan for the pond. If you have an opinion about the pond’s future, better let them know. Go to www.mirrorpondbend.com.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

Pick the future of Mirror Pond

Bend residents are taking the first steps to decide Mirror Pond’s future. Should the dam go? Should the pond be dredged? Should the community do nothing, or is there a better choice?

If you want to have a say in the process, now is the time to get involved. The steering committee for the pond has established a questionnaire to identify options to present to the community.

The questionnaire has been up only a short time at www.MirrorPond.info. There are already some 350 responses.

It’s not a scientific poll, but Don Horton, the executive director of the Bend Park & Recreation District, says the purpose is to get as many people involved in the process as possible.

Public meetings are planned for February. Jim Figurski, the Mirror Pond project manager employed by the park district, is also going to be speaking to various community groups. In March and April, a consultant will come up with a series of options with cost estimates.

Then there will be another round of outreach to pick a preferred option. It should be chosen by June.

Paying for the chosen option is only one significant issue.

What is the future of the dam? Representatives from Pacific Power, the dam’s owner, have repeatedly said they want to find out what the community wants first before making decisions about its future. But what Pacific Power does with the hydroelectric dam is obviously fundamental to any choice. It doesn’t make any sense to spend millions dredging if Pacific Power wants to give up the dam.

There’s also the issue of the ownership of the land under the pond. About 90 percent of it belongs to the McKay family, whose ancestors shaped Bend’s development. The family wants liability protection if there is a dredging operation. That’s so they wouldn’t be forced to pay to clean up the dredged material, if it is found to be contaminated. It’s not clear how much that protection might cost.

Mirror Pond has been a central feature of Bend since 1910. Make your voice count and fill out the questionnaire.

Correction: The Mirror Pond Steering Committee’s website is at www.MirrorPondBend.com.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

Get costs for Mirror Pond options

The city of Bend and the Bend Park & Recreation District have the cart before the Mirror Pond horse, it seems. They’re planning to ask citizens what they’d like to have happen to the pond, then go about figuring exactly how to get there.

Thus they plan to spend half of a $200,000 pot surveying residents about what they’d like to see done to the pond, which has silted badly since it last was dredged in 1984. The current discussion has been going on at least since 1991; it’s time to resolve the matter.

Yet asking citizens what they’d like to see done before there are any serious estimates about it will cost to accomplish each of them makes no sense.

There is, for example, a best-guess estimate that it will cost between $2 million and $5 million to dredge the pond. That’s a whopping increase from the price tag of the last dredging job, though understandable in light of what new criteria will have to be met before dredging begins.

We don’t know, however, what it would cost to remove the Pacific Power dam that formed the pond in the first place, and we don’t know who would be expected to pay for that removal. Nor do we understand the implications of simply letting the silt continue to build up the pond until the city is graced by a mud flat through its middle.

Finally, and no doubt critically, we don’t really know who owns the land under the pond and what the implications of that ownership are. A committee currently weighing the matter is inclined to delay answering that last question, though it seems from here to be a key factor in deciding what can be done.

We suspect Bend residents will want to see Mirror Pond remain Mirror Pond. It is, after all, the signature section of the river that is such a signature part of the community. We also suspect residents will want to be able to choose that option knowing what other choices might cost.

If, after the numbers are crunched, officials want to do a survey, fine. Meanwhile, however, they should spend every bit of the money they’ve set aside to find out just what can be done and what the different options will cost. Then and only then should they ask residents to weigh in on the matter.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

Welcome progress on Mirror Pond

Great news this week on Mirror Pond. We’re heartened not only by the money committed, but also the decision that a study can be done by staff rather than consultants.

The Bend Park & Recreation District decided Tuesday to spend $100,000 on a study of the silt problem in Mirror Pond, matching the city of Bend’s earlier commitment for the same amount.

Progress has been stalled because of the perceived need for $500,000 to have a study conducted by consultants. The breakthrough this week comes from park district Executive Director Don Horton, who said the combined $200,000 will be enough for staff to do the needed analysis.

Horton said the funding decision will allow the study to start within the next few months. That’s music to our ears; the wait has already been far too long.

We also like the idea of using the talent of local staff, rather than turning to outside consultants. There’s plenty of expertise here, and staff members are quite capable of researching issues where they need to know more.

Silt buildup in Mirror Pond, the city’s central downtown feature, has been turning it into a mudflat. The prime cause is the nearby hydroelectric dam that slows the water flow, causing sediment to drop and build up in the pond. The pond was last dredged in 1984 at a cost of $312,000. Estimates to do it today run from $2 million to $5 million.

Although many have supported dredging to restore the pond, some have suggested other solutions, including removing the dam and returning the pond to its original river status.

We support dredging, and we think the community does as well. We’ll never know for certain, though, until voters are offered a clear-cut choice to support preserving the city’s unique treasure.

Source: The Bulletin

Don’t forget the pond and skate park

Bend Park & Recreation District officials take community input seriously. They do polls and hold community open houses to determine what taxpayers want, and they tailor their plans accordingly.

Back in 2004, that meant scrapping plans for a bond issue to build a westside version of Juniper Swim & Fitness Center.

This year, it means the district will go forward with plans for a $29 million bond to fill in gaps on the river trail, build an ice rink and help Oregon State University-Cascades Campus with expansion plans, among others.

What they won’t do with this bond, however, is move forward with a study of Mirror Pond or the building of a skate park.

Mirror Pond is too controversial and not solely a park district responsibility, said Executive Director Don Horton, and the skate park suffered a “lack of support from voters.”

That made them unattractive items for a bond issue, Horton said, and we can’t dispute that reality. To enhance chances of bond approval, the district needs to focus on the things voters are willing to pay for. Attracting controversy doesn’t enhance chances of bond passage, and we support the bond.

Still, what to do about Mirror Pond and a skate park?

A few years ago, most of the public talk about Mirror Pond focused on finding the money to pay for dredging. More recently, the panel discussing next steps is hearing from those who think big changes would be better, possibly removing the dam and returning the river to a more natural course. What had seemed obvious has become controversial, at least among those trying to fix the problem.

Without a poll or a vote, we can’t know if attitudes have really shifted, but we think there’s still enormous support for preserving the pond by dredging. If voters were given a clear option for that, we think there’s a good chance they’d vote to pay for it. If, however, they are asked to pay for studies with unknown result, support would be much less certain.

The skate park has different issues. Lack of support in surveys is not surprising, and shows the danger in relying entirely on such tools. Skateboarders are less likely to respond to a survey or to attend meetings, and the unsavory reputation of skateboarders survives despite being outdated.

Across the nation, other communities have provided impressive new facilities for skateboarders, a group that now includes many responsible adults as well as youngsters. Yes, it’s a small group, but it’s also a small cost relative to all the other planned expenditures.

Horton says work toward a skate park will go forward using resources the district already has, rather than money from the bond. That sounds fine. We would understand if advocates are skeptical, though, given the long time they’ve been meeting with park district officials and seeing other projects move ahead to completion.

Yes, for a bond measure to dredge Mirror Pond

Yes, yes, yes to the idea of dredging Mirror Pond first and then trying to figure out the long-term picture later.

It was refreshing to hear that notion stated so directly by members of the steering committee working on this question.

“Something has to be done to remove the sediment immediately, regardless of what we do in the long term,” said Matt Shinderman, Oregon State University-Cascades Campus natural resources instructor.

“It’s kind of a two-stage process. The first is to dredge the pond, and the second is to do a longer-term study of what needs to be done to the pond,” said Don Horton, executive director of Bend Park & Recreation District.

Yes, indeed.

Earlier plans to spend $500,000 on a study of options faltered because the price was so high and no one had the money to pay for it. Estimates to dredge the pond range from $2 million to $5 million.

The group is awaiting citizen response from an upcoming park district survey before deciding if it should ask voters for a one-time bond issue to dredge the pond, or the formation of a permanent special taxing district.

A permanent taxing district is a complex question. Voters would need to consider whether they want to continue to carve out special tax obligations as they have for other things — such as the library and sheriff’s office — that previously were paid for by the general fund. And, voters wouldn’t know exactly what they’d get in the future with that obligation. Recommendations to return the river to its natural state, for example, would be far less popular than preserving the town’s crown jewel by dredging.

We favor a simple bond measure, because we think voters will support something they value and can understand.

Source: The Bulletin

Mirror Pond frustrations

For years now, the silt has continued to pile up in Bend’s Mirror Pond while officials have struggled to find a solution.

Committees are formed, meetings held, staff briefly hired.

But the silt continues to pile up amid reports that there just isn’t enough money to deal with it.

Two Bulletin readers wrote last week urging the Bend Park & Recreation District to drop its new projects and concentrate on the pond. They reflect the frustration many feel when they read about wonderful plans while the prime jewel of the city deteriorates.

The park district doesn’t have sole responsibility for Mirror Pond, but it is the agency with money to do optional things. A bridge at the First Street Rapids or the purchase of the old Mt. Bachelor Park and Ride property are great, but hardly essential. So why not just focus on Mirror Pond?

One answer, according to the park district’s Executive Director Don Horton, is that the district is constrained by state law to spend its money only on recreation. Although rescuing Mirror Pond may contribute to recreation, he said, many other issues are involved.

The district does plan to include questions about Mirror Pond in an upcoming survey, asking respondents if they think a special district should be formed for Mirror Pond or if they prefer a bond issue for a one-time fix.

Results of the survey will help guide the park district in deciding among its many high-priced possible projects, Horton said.

Meanwhile, City of Bend Community Development Department Director Mel Oberst has agreed to take on a coordinating role on the Mirror Pond issue, working with the park district and other interested parties, as well as researching requirements of state and federal agencies. Oberst said the park district’s survey results will help guide the next steps for the group.

We’re in favor of preserving Mirror Pond, and we hope the group’s work will lead swiftly to a public vote if that’s what’s needed. A bond issue for studying alternatives would be a hard sell, but voters are likely to support one that offers a clear path to preserve the pond.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

The price to save Mirror Pond

Bend’s Mirror Pond is more than a pond. It is an arresting symbol of the city that should not be lost. As the years go by, the pond is becoming a mudflat. Sediment has settled behind the dam.

Geese may soon waddle rather than swim. Paddles may be used to push, not row. Bend’s butterfly is becoming a caterpillar.

The effort to fix the pond has become as muddied as the pond.

The consultant hired to evaluate alternatives has been let go. There is no money for an analysis weighing alternative solutions, costing maybe $500,000 — let alone a fix which might add another $5 million.

Spending some money on a study for alternatives seems inescapable. Without a rigorous analysis, the state or the federal government would likely refuse approval of a fix. Without an analysis, chances of getting the federal government to chip in any money would be lost.

Where will the money come from?

The city of Bend doesn’t have it. The Bend Park & Recreation District may be doing relatively better financially, but it would be hard to argue that pond upkeep is part of its mission.

So the city is looking at creating a taxing district, perhaps putting it before voters in November 2012.

We’d vote for a taxing district to pay to dredge Mirror Pond. But is that what the tax would pay for? Would the tax sunset? Would the taxing district create a permanent, new bureaucratic fiefdom?

Some have proposed that the natural, permanent fix would be to remove dams and let the Deschutes resume its course. The pond would become a river again. There likely would be less need to come back in another 25 years and dredge again, though Bend’s centerpiece would be gone.

A taxing district for Mirror Pond has a chance, but only if voters know what they are paying for.

Source: The Bulletin ©2011

What would a tax do?

Mirror Pond can’t be allowed to become Mirror Mud Flat. But the problem is money. Estimates from a few years ago placed the cost of a fix at between $2 million and $5 million.

Because of the laws involved, you can’t just get a backhoe and start dredging out the silt. There must be a study that looks at alternatives and considers the impacts. The study could cost another $540,000.

The city doesn’t have that kind of money. The park district certainly didn’t budget for it. There isn’t enough money to even do the study.

One solution being floated is to put a taxing district on the May ballot to create a long-term funding mechanism.

Our question: What would that money pay for?

Mirror Pond isn’t natural. It’s man-made. It was formed by building a hydroelectric dam near the Newport Avenue Bridge in 1913.

The Deschutes River carries sediment. The dam acts like a wall slowing down the river. Some of the sediment is dropped. The sediment builds up. It happens at dams across the world. In Mirror Pond, it is building mud flats. The city dredged the pond before in 1984.

Many Bend residents may be willing to pay into a fund that would keep Mirror Pond a pond. But is that the solution the taxing district would pay for?

One proposed solution has been to take out the dam. The pond might shrink to look more like the river in other parts of town. It could add more land to Drake Park. That “solution” could also create problems downstream as the silt moved. The next stop for the silt could be the irrigation diversion dam near The Riverhouse.

Is that what the tax would pay for? Moving the problem? And if the dam is removed, would a long-term funding mechanism be necessary?

Then there’s the $540,000 study. That looks like spending half a million to find out what everybody knows. But basically, to comply with the law and if there’s any hope of getting federal money to help pay for what’s done, there needs to be a scientific analysis of water quality, the critters in the water, the sediment and alternatives.

Mirror Pond is one of Bend’s signature landmarks. We can’t let it fill in. But the community is going to be have to filled in on some details before it would ever support a tax.

Source: The Bulletin ©2011