Public opinion might be split on the future of Mirror Pond, but the vote of committee members tasked with selecting a plan for the pond was unanimous on Monday: They want to keep the pond.
The Mirror Pond ad hoc committee voted Monday afternoon to continue negotiating with PacifiCorp to obtain ownership of the dam that created Mirror Pond, as long as that plan is financially feasible for the community. Officials from the city of Bend and Bend Park & Recreation District will draft a resolution based on the ad hoc committee’s decision.
The plan is for the park district board to vote on the resolution at a meeting tonight, and the City Council to vote on it during a Wednesday night meeting. Mirror Pond is a section of the Deschutes River.
PacifiCorp announced in late November that due to the deteriorating condition of the dam, it no longer makes financial sense for the company to continue operating the dam and hydropower plant. Local officials had been waiting for that decision because it is a major factor in how the community will deal with sediment that built up behind the dam.
Earlier this year, the ad hoc committee selected two of its members, City Councilor Mark Capell and park district Executive Director Don Horton, to meet behind closed doors with PacifiCorp about the future of the dam. On Monday, Capell and Horton said they needed to know whether the committee wants to keep Mirror Pond or remove the dam and return this section of the Deschutes River to its free-flowing state.
Capell urged the committee to tell PacifiCorp to seek other individuals or entities that might want to purchase the dam. Capell said he wants to preserve the pond but believes the utility company wants too much money for a broken dam. PacifiCorp representatives said in recent years that they wanted to wait for the community to weigh in on the future of Mirror Pond.
“I don’t really think they gave a rip about what we think or what we want,” Capell said Monday. “Some corporations have a public conscience, and some don’t. I think PacifiCorp, if you look at their priorities, their priorities are to their owners, stockholders, and somewhere down the road from there, their ratepayers. And as long as you know that going in, you know what you’re dealing with.”
Capell said he did not believe any other entities would want to operate the dam, and only a conservation group with very deep pockets could afford to buy the dam and remove it. A consultant for the park district estimated it would cost $11 million to remove the dam and restore that section of river, and that cost does not include a purchase price. Capell predicted PacifiCorp would eventually return to the negotiating table with local governments, and perhaps be closer to the deal Capell wants: for the utility to repair the dam and donate it to a local government.
Capell’s proposal worried two citizens who were recently appointed to the ad hoc committee. Mike Olin and Ned Dempsey said they were concerned that if local officials told PacifiCorp to seek other buyers, they could lose their chance to obtain the dam. “I think that’s a risky strategy,” said Dempsey, a civil engineer who owns property across from Drake Park. Other committee members agreed.
The ad hoc committee also heard from one of the two businessmen who recently announced they signed a contract for an option to purchase land under Mirror Pond. Todd Taylor, president and CEO of the construction company Taylor Northwest, and Bill Smith, developer of the Old Mill District, formed a company to negotiate the purchase of the land because they wanted to ensure a local government preserves the pond. Officials have said they need permission from the McKay family, which claims ownership of land under Mirror Pond, in order to dredge the pond. Meanwhile, Horton has said a public agency should own this land; if the dam was removed and water levels lowered, the park district could expand its riverfront parks.
“We didn’t take this endeavor on to capitalize on it,” Taylor told the ad hoc committee on Monday. However, Taylor said that under the purchase option he and Smith negotiated with the McKay family, it would cost a local government roughly $225,000 to $327,000 to acquire the 23.5 acres of land under the pond. Taylor said this cost includes land title research, mapping and testing of the sediment in the pond.
Officials also discussed how to obtain water rights necessary to maintain Mirror Pond, if a local government purchases the dam from PacifiCorp. The utility company holds water rights to generate power and remove ice and debris from the pond, but it does not hold rights to store water in a pond. Park district lawyer Neil Bryant said the best option for a local government to obtain water rights necessary to keep the dam would be to ask the state Legislature to pass a bill. If the legislation applied narrowly to Mirror Pond, “I think the governor and Legislature would be pretty receptive to this,” Bryant said.
At the end of the meeting, the Mirror Pond ad hoc committee heard public comments from a few people in the audience. Stan Roach, who lives in northeast Bend and also just bought property near the pond, asked how many people at the meeting lived on the east side of the city. The meeting was packed with dozens of people, but only a couple raised their hands.
“I think this has become a west-side issue, not a community issue,” Roach said after the meeting. “Of course, I would like to see some preservation of the pond, but not at a ridiculous amount of money.”
When the park district conducted an unscientific survey earlier this year, nearly 47 percent of survey respondents wanted to remove the Mirror Pond dam and roughly 43 percent wanted to keep the dam.
Capell said he has spoken with other city councilors, and they generally do not want the city to take on responsibility to pay for the dam and other work on Mirror Pond. Horton said the park district also might not have enough money to pay for such a project, unless it asks voters to approve additional taxes.
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