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.