Bend Mayor Jim Clinton has come out in support of the city helping to pay the cost to keep Mirror Pond. If the idea wins support from other city councilors, it would be a departure from current city policy.
The mayor’s proposal last week was a surprise to City Manager Eric King, who said Tuesday that he had not heard Clinton wants the city to help pay for the multimillion-dollar project. King said he expected any recommendation on whether to pay for the leak-prone dam that creates the pond would come from Councilors Victor Chudowsky and Mark Capell, who are members of an ad hoc committee tasked with deciding the future of Mirror Pond. The committee also includes residents and board members from the Bend Park & Recreation District, a separate local government agency.
Clinton said in an interview last week that the logical next step is for city officials to discuss whether Bend should help pay to replace and maintain the dam on the Deschutes River, after the park district released a report in May on the cost to overhaul or replace the dam.
“Now that people are starting to digest that, it will probably be time soon to see if the park district or city would want to buy the dam and take over control of it,” Clinton said. “The City Council has consistently said, ‘No, hell no, we don’t want to buy the dam.’ However, as this comes forward, it looks like somebody has to cooperate with someone else to get some solution in place.”
Discussions have focused on the park district acquiring the dam, although district Executive Director Don Horton said in December that the district might not have enough money to maintain it, unless it asks voters to approve a new tax. After the ad hoc committee voted in December to work toward the goal of preserving Mirror Pond and negotiate to acquire the dam, the City Council voted to support those goals. However, Capell said at the time that he had spoken with other city councilors and they generally did not want the city to take paying for the dam and other work on Mirror Pond.
Clinton said that because the City Council voted to work toward keeping the pond, the city has a responsibility to help pay for the work to accomplish that.
“We can’t be irresponsible as a city and say Mirror Pond, we as a city want it to stay there, but we aren’t willing to do anything to make it stay there,” Clinton said.
The city’s property tax revenues are starting to recover from the crash in the real estate market, and Clinton said it might be appropriate to use money from the general fund — mostly property tax revenue — to pay for work on Mirror Pond dam. However, the mayor said he had not decided whether to push for that.
Local officials have discussed for years the future of Mirror Pond, in part because sediment has been building up behind the dam and creating mud flats. The issue became more immediate in November when PacifiCorp, the utility that owns the dam, announced it planned to decommission it or transfer ownership to a different entity. Since then, members of the ad hoc committee have been negotiating with the utility to acquire the structure.
The cost to maintain Mirror Pond dam will easily run into the millions of dollars. Phoenix, Ariz.-based contractor Gannett Fleming Inc. inspected the dam in March and determined it will eventually fail. At the low end, analysis of figures in the Gannett Fleming report suggests the total cost to dredge sediment and replace or overhaul the dam might be $3.9 million, if the state does not require the owner to install fish passage and the owner can dredge the sediment behind the structure for the lowest estimated price. However, the project cost could reach at least $22.8 million, based on estimates in the report. Neither the low or high estimate includes permitting costs, engineering design for a new dam or updates to the structure, or any riparian habitat restoration or other work along the riverbanks.
The two city councilors on the ad hoc committee did not say Tuesday whether they agree with Clinton’s comments. Chudowsky said he did not have any comment on whether the city should help pay to replace the dam and maintain it. Capell said he had not heard any other city councilors discuss a financial contribution for the dam. “In terms of ownership of the dam, I think we’re not ready to make that decision,” Capell said. “And it’s going to take a lot more community involvement before we get there.”
Clinton said that although many people now want to remove dams to restore rivers to their free-flowing state, the Mirror Pond dam on the Deschutes is a different situation.
“It’s not a wild and scenic river that has salmon runs that Indians treasure,” Clinton said of the Middle Deschutes River. “This is an urban dam. It’s an irrigation channel, so it’s different from a real wild river that could be greatly restored, like the Elwha River in the Olympic National Park.”
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