Mirror Pond dredging could cost Pacific Power customers, river floaters

Subcommittee will discuss options for raising $6.7 million

Julia Shumway @jmshumway | The Bulletin

A new City Council subcommittee will consider ways to pay for dredging Mirror Pond that could mean higher utility bills for Bend residents or fees for people floating the Deschutes River.

Six of Bend’s seven city councilors voted Wednesday to form a subcommittee to discuss paying to remove silt from the pond, and the Bend Park & Recreation District plans to vote Oct. 2 on whether it will do the same. It’s the latest movement in what’s been more than a yearlong effort from Mirror Pond Solutions, the private group that owns the land under the pond, to get the city, park district and Pacific Power and Light to help foot the $6.7 million bill to remove three decades worth of accumulated silt from the pond.

Mayor Casey Roats and city Councilors Bruce Abernethy and Bill Moseley will serve on the subcommittee, and they’ll look at 12 options. But they plan to most seriously discuss four options: charging Pacific Power a franchise fee that would be passed down to ratepayers, instituting a park user fee, having the city or park district contribute money from their general funds and seeking more private donations.

“My gut sense is it’s going to be some kind of a hybrid mix,” Abernethy said.

The new group’s meetings will be open to the public and press, unlike two meetings held this summer by several councilors, park board members, City Manager Eric King, park district Executive Director Don Horton and representatives from Mirror Pond Solutions. City legal staff said those discussions, which resulted in the list of funding options the new group will consider, could remain closed because no formal decisions or recommendations came from the meetings.

Every funding option should be discussed and vetted, Mayor Pro Tem Sally Russell said.

“We need to be smart about how we move through this financially with the city,” she said.

Two local businessmen — Old Mill District developer Bill Smith and Taylor Northwest construction company owner Todd Taylor — formed Mirror Pond Solutions a few years ago, after the family that had owned the land under the pond gave it to them. They had the permits required to start removing 75,000 cubic yards of silt from the pond this summer, but private donations have raised only about $320,000.

Mirror Pond Solutions has paid $434,000 for permits, but that total is not counted in the $6.7 million dredging estimate.

Other entities haven’t been eager to contribute. The city and park district have their own upcoming costly projects in the area: a $6.5 million park project to repair crumbling riverbanks and connect the Deschutes River Trail, and an estimated $11.5 million that the city will have to spend to replace or update 13 stormwater outfalls and stop debris from entering the pond through the city’s stormwater system.

City Councilor Barb Campbell, who opposed forming the subcommittee, said it doesn’t make sense for the city to pay for a project in a park when it has its own infrastructure projects to fund.

“We’re talking about spending city of Bend money dredging a pond that is in the middle of a park in a city that has a separate parks district,” Campbell said.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com


Management Board Minutes 1-18-2013

Mirror Pond Management Board
2:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Board Room of City Hall

Meeting Notes

Attendance: Angela Price (Pacific Power); Don Horton (Bend Park and Recreation District); Mel Oberst (City of Bend); Ryan Houston (Deschutes Watershed Council); Todd Heisler (Deschutes River Conservancy); Victor Chudowsky (Bend City Council); Leslie Olson (River West Neighborhood Association); Jim Figurski (Project Manager; Bend Park and Recreation District)

Also present: Reporters from Channel 2 and the Bend Bulletin; Spencer Dahl (Old Bend Neighborhood Association)

Agenda: Update on status and progress of Mirror Pond Visioning Project Discussion:   Don Horton started the meeting with a background statement regarding the history and intent behind the current project.  Jim Figurski gave a brief PowerPoint presentation to the MPMB covering some of the history of past efforts and the opportunities and constraints associated with current and future efforts.

The presentation also covered the launch of the Mirror Pond Project website; www.MirrorPondBend.com ; a discussion of the ‘Questionnaire’ hosted on the website; the current request for consultant services to help create the ‘Visions’ associated with future strategies to address silt; and the project schedule.

The board discussed the outreach strategies presented and stated their approval

Pond, safety addressed at forum

Candidates for Bend City Council discussed their positions on issues ranging from what to do about Mirror Pond to how to pay for police and fire services at a forum Thursday night.

The forum was for candidates running for two of the four City Council positions up for election in November. Incumbent City Councilor Jim Clinton and challenger Mike Roberts are running for council seat 4. Doug Knight, Ed McCoy, Ed Barbeau and Charles Baer are running for council seat 2, currently held by Mayor Jeff Eager, who is not seeking re-election. Candidates for the other two seats up for election spoke at a forum on Sept. 27.

The forum at City Hall was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Deschutes County, a nonpartisan organization that does not endorse candidates or measures.

Moderator Kristi Miller asked the candidates how they would resolve the long running question of what to do about silt buildup in Mirror Pond, which threatens to turn the section of the Deschutes River into a mudflat.

Baer said he believes a majority of residents want to dredge the pond, but he would put the question to voters with a ballot measure. “I would assume the people who live on Mirror Pond would be able to pay for some of the expenses,” Baer said. “Certainly, they can afford it.”

Clinton called for a process that would begin with fact gathering and identifyinng the options and their costs. Then, Clinton would like a public process to determine what the public wants to do with Mirror Pond and how to pay for the work.

Roberts said any solution to the silt buildup must address how dredging or other work will affect downstream properties.

Knight said the process of finding a solution for Mirror Pond stalled because of a lack of funding. Knight would like to create a taxing district that would cover riverfront properties in the water overlay zone, a city zone that extends along the Deschutes River inside Bend. The fund created with this tax revenue would be a long-term solution, Knight said.

McCoy said the city needs to do more outreach and education for residents on the issue.

Barbeau said he liked Clinton’s plan, but the city should start by finding out what residents want. “If you have a plan before that, you’re going to have a hard time implementing it.”

A question that some candidates did not answer was how to pay for police and fire services in the future. The city general fund pays for both of these services, and City Manager Eric King has said that over the next five years, he expects property taxes and other revenue coming into the general fund to grow much more slowly — an estimated 2 percent annually — than the demand for police and fire services, which are projected to grow by 7 to 9 percent annually.

Baer said he is prepared to cut the police and fire department budgets if there is not enough revenue to sustain them.

“It’s bad news, but it’s reality,” Baer said. “I understand this and I feel I’m ready to make cuts in the budget …. I’m just trying to be honest with everybody about it.”

Clinton said he is committed to adding more police and firefighters in the next budget cycle, but did not say how he would pay for the new positions.

Roberts said he would weigh each proposed city expenditure against whether the money would be better used to hire one more firefighter or police officer.

Knight said it would help to remove the Fire Department from the city and merge it with Deschutes County Rural Fire Protection District No. 2.

McCoy said citizens are already paying taxes for these services and deserve quick response times by police and firefighters.

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

Mirror Pond project takes a step

The Bend Park & Recreation District voted Tuesday to spend $100,000 to study a solution to the silt problem in Mirror Pond.

Don Horton, the district’s executive director, said in a staff recommendation that the money would match the $100,000 the city of Bend has put up for the study.

Mirror Pond — which is considered a part of Bend’s identity — is in danger of becoming mudflats if nothing is done to dredge two decades of accumulated silt. The nearby hydroelectric dam slows the water and sediment through the pond, causing some of the sediment to settle along the edges and build up over time.

Horton said he believes the combined $200,000 will be enough for an internal planning and development team to conduct an analysis to find a solution to the siltation problem.

The Mirror Pond Management Board originally wanted to hire outside consultants, a job estimated at $500,000. They can reduce this cost and expedite the overall analysis process by using internal staff, Horton said.

The actual dredging project is expected to cost between $2 million and $5 million.

Now that the group has the initial funding, Horton said it can make the project a priority and begin an analysis within the next few months.

“My instinct is always that staff will do it better than a consultant,” said Ted Schoenborn, a park and recreation director. “I think it’s a great model for a community-wide project. It’s exactly the kind of thing we’ve always thought was appropriate.”

Community members have suggested dredging the pond immediately for aesthetic purposes, removing the dam entirely to fix the silting problem or doing nothing about the silt.

The last time the pond was dredged was in 1984 at a cost of $312,000.

Source: The Bulletin ©2012

Mirror Pond’s future still unclear

While a state wildlife official has said removing the dam that creates Mirror Pond would be a permanent solution to sediment buildup in Bend’s signature body of water, members of a board trying to determine what to do about the clogged pond say that’s not going to happen.

State and federal wildlife managers, as well as state land, water and environmental officials, met with the Mirror Pond Management Board earlier this month. At the meeting, Mike Harrington, assistant district fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Bend, told the board that fish would benefit from reopening the stretch of the Deschutes River known as Mirror Pond.

“I think that would be the best option for everyone,” he said in a telephone interview after the meeting. “You won’t have to dredge the pond on a periodic basis.”

Those involved in the project want to keep Mirror Pond, though, said Don Horton, executive director of the Bend Park & Recreation District.

“It’s been an icon of Bend for 100 years,” he said.

Finding support for the removal of the dam and the demise of Mirror Pond would be a major challenge, said Bend City Manager Eric King.

“I think Mirror Pond is an iconic symbol of Bend,” he said.

Since summer 2009, the management board — which includes leaders from the city of Bend, the Park & Recreation District, Pacific Power, neighborhood associations and watershed restoration groups — has been meeting about how to address the sediment situation in the pond. There is also a separate Mirror Pond Steering Committee, started in November 2010, which is tasked with developing and implementing a long-term plan for dealing with the silt in the pond. The board advises the committee, which has members from many of the same groups.

Pacific Power and Light, which is now Pacific Power, built a small power dam in downtown Bend in 1910 and created Mirror Pond. Silt regularly collects in the pond, creating mud flats that degrade the water quality in the river. Dredging has been the solution in the past. The last time the pond was dredged, in 1984, it cost $312,000. A 2009 study estimated that dredging would now cost between $2 million and $5 million.

The key questions remain: Who would pay for the further study of dredging, and who would pay for the dredging itself?

“That’s the crux of the Mirror Pond issue,” said Ryan Houston, executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council. Houston is on the management board. “It’s not very clear whose responsibility it is to fix it and what the fix is.”

Before his nonprofit group supports any plans for the pond, be it dredging or dam removal, there needs to be an understanding of the costs and benefits of the options, he said.

The Park & Recreation District was considering a $425,000 Mirror Pond dredging study among its project list for a November bond measure, but removed it last week.

Without the possible bond to support the study, those involved in the Mirror Pond talks are again considering putting the formation of a special taxing district on the November ballot. The district would collect taxes to fund the study.

As the discussion continues, Portland-based PacifiCorp, the parent company of Pacific Power, doesn’t have any plans to remove the dam, said Angela Jacobson, regional community manager for Pacific Power.

“PacifiCorp plans to continue to operate the Bend hydro facility as long it is the interest of our customers,” she said.

The dam helps the power company create about one megawatt of power, which produces enough electricity to supply about 500 homes, according to the company.

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

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