Mirror Pond ballot measure proposed

Foster Fell says limit on city funding aims to 'reopen discussion'

BEND, Ore. - A Bend parks activist who failed to win a seat on the Bend Metro Park and Rec Board last year is seeking a return to the ballot in a different form – proposing an initiative that would limit city funding of any fix to the muddy woes of Mirror Pond, unless it helps trout and ends the need for periodic dredging..

Foster Fell's proposed ballot measure would prohibit the city from using any tax or bond dollars on Mirror Pond unless "aquatic and streamside conditions resulting from the project shall enable a key indicator species, namely native red band trout, to spawn, be reared, thrive, and to have unimpeded passage."

The second element of the measure would forbid city funding of a fix for Mirror Pond unless "no periodic dredging will be required, as a result of the project."

Fell would need to gather at least 7,048 signatures from city residents to put the proposal on the November ballot. First, a legal notice has been published, setting a Feb. 4 deadline for any Bend voter who wants to send the ballot title to a review in circuit court. Signature-gathering can begin after that process is complete.

In the legal notice, City Attorney Mary Winters gave the ballot title as: "Restriction on use of city funds for Mirror Pond projects." What Fell proposed in his prospective petition filing was a grander goal that makes clear he falls into the remove-the-dam camp: "For a healthy, free-flowing Deschutes River at the present site of Mirror Pond."

Many in Bend might remember Fell for organizing a July 2010 memorial for 109 Drake Park geese that federal fish and wildlife agents euthanized with CO gas, sparking dismay among many animal-lovers who thought there had to be a better way. (Other means of population control have been used since then.)

The ballot measure proposal comes at yet another sticky turning point in the years-long debate over what to do about the iconic pond, filling with silt and mud, and the Pacific Power hydroelectric dam that formed the pond on the Deschutes River over a century ago. The last dredging was in the 1980s.

A community survey, open houses and studies found a split among those wanting the silt gone and the dam retained to those desiring a free-flowing river. Members of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance has drafted a compromise with elements of both options.

But the issues grew even muddier last year, when the wood-and-rock dam sprang a leak, significantly lowering the water levels. After an inspection of the aging dam, the utility indicated it wishes to divest itself of the dam and is willing to entertain community proposals on how to do so. 

There have been talks, but no resolution so far, as the park district pushes for dam repairs before next summer's recreation season, when thousands of visitors and citizens float the pond and river.

Fell said Wednesday of his measure, "It will reopen the discussion."

"I don't think there's been enough talk about river health," Fell said. "There's been talk about a lot of other issues, but not enough about the actual conditions of the river."

City Recorder Robyn Christie said Fell would need to gather signatures from at least 15 percent of the registered voters in the city, or 7,048 signatures. Last May, Fell garnered 4,672 votes, or 42 percent of those casting ballots, in his unsuccessful run for a park board seat against Daniel Fishkin, who won with 6,341 votes.

Fell's initiative only addresses city -- not park district -- funding, but he said Thursday he is considering a second initiative petition to address that aspect.

"There is always the concern that a taxing district such as BPRD would go to the voters with a tax or bond measure to preserve the pond in an off-year/odd numbered election year," Fell wrote. "In such elections, the turnout is low (30%) and the typical voter seems to be "conservative," connected, and tied in with the status quo."

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