Bend park board backs retaining Mirror Pond

City council will take up issue Wednesday night

Mirror Pond off chopping block

BEND, Ore. - One day after an ad hoc committee recommended retaining Mirror Pond and pursuing transfer of the century-old hydroelectric dam that formed it, the Bend Metro Park and Rec Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to adopt that position as well.

The resolution passed by the board – which also goes to the Bend City Council at its Wednesday night meeting -- supports the committee's recommendation "to pursue the preservation of Mirror Pond, to further assess the cost associated with preserving the pond, and to continue negotiations with PacifiCorp toward the transfer of dam ownership."

The resolution notes that the utility has "decided to either decommission the dam or sell it to another entity."

It also says the ad hoc committee voted unanimously on Monday "to preserve Mirror Pond and continue negotiations with PacifiCorp to pursue ownership of the dam, within financial reason."

The vote of the five-member board was unanimous, said park district spokeswoman Jan Taylor, who said they all supported allowing the ad hoc committee to move forward with negotiations.

On Monday night, about 50 people -- mostly residents of Bend's Westside - packed into the Bend Park and Rec building to hear the pond's fate.

The decision comes after months of debate, questionnaires and public meetings   regarding how to deal with the issue of the pond's silt-filled waters.

Options on the table ranged from dredging the pond to fully removing the dam and letting the river flow back to a more natural state.

Although committee members have agreed on working to preserve the pond, there are still big questions of who will take over the dam, and how much it will cost to maintain both the dam and the pond.

The original estimate said removing the dam and turning the pond into a more natural flowing river could cost about $11 million.

The original estimates and studies back in June also showed that a full dredge of the pond alone could cost about $5.7 million.

But those figures are in flux, due to a variety of factors, including the cost of dam repairs, the water rights transfer, etc.

A couple of committee members, including Bend Park and Rec Executive Director Don Horton, said the project to save Mirror Pond likely would require public funding.

Horton said moving forward, it's important to go back to the community with the proposed solution and seek consensus and approval.

Park district legal counsel Neil Bryant said there's another potential problem in the mix: the transfer of water rights from Pacific Power to the entity that will take over the dam.

Bryant said currently, the only legal use for retaining the water of Mirror Pond is for power generation and ice and debris removal.

He said obtaining a transfer of water rights could be a messy legal process taking two years.

Bryant said the most effective means of keeping Mirror Pond without generating power could mean asking the Oregon Legislature to add an exception exclusively for the purpose of maintaining the pond.

Dozens of people came away from the meeting happy that the panel supports retaining the pond.

"It's an iconic fixture in the community," said one man. "I'm glad they're moving forward."

Others were more skeptical of the high price tag and the condition of the dam that Pacific Power found wasn't worth fixing or maintaining.

"It's a lot of expense to maintain the pond," said one man who attended the meeting. "Where really, to allow the pond to go back to a natural river, that expense would end up on the power company. Those two things have to be weighed against each other."

Bend city councilors and Mirror Pond Ad Hoc committee members Victor Chudowsky and Mark Capell both agreed the pond should stay.

Chudowsky told NewsChannel 21 he made his decision within the last couple weeks, as the water in Mirror Pond dipped low.

"From a recreational point of view, having the water a lot lower just failed," Chudowsky said. "People love floating down Mirror Pond, and I think changing it from a free-flowing river is going to detract from that experience."

But some were disappointed with the committee's decision.

"I really like the idea of the river going to its natural state,"  said a man who addressed the crowd during the public comment.

He said he doesn't think the entire Bend community's views are being represented or heard, noting that most of the people in attendance live on Bend's Westside, many of them close to Mirror Pond.

Although the group adjourned with a sense of direction and consensus, the process of saving Mirror Pond -- if that indeed is the outcome -- is far from over.

Another meeting with Pacific Power officials is slated for later this week.

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