Businessmen pick up option to buy land under Mirror Pond

Developers plan to sell the option to anyone willing to save the pond

By Hillary Borrud / The Bulletin / @hborrud

Published Nov 26, 2013 at 12:01AM

Over the last year, two powerful local businessmen discussed privately their frustration with the slow pace of planning for the future of Mirror Pond. Earlier this month, they took action.

Bill Smith, developer of the Old Mill District, and Todd Taylor, president and CEO of the construction company Taylor Northwest, said Monday they signed a contract Nov. 14 for an option to purchase the land under Mirror Pond from the McKay family. They plan to transfer the option to purchase the land to any local government entity that will purchase the land and preserve Mirror Pond. Smith and Taylor said their only goal is to ensure the preservation of Mirror Pond, and they do not expect to make money on the endeavor. They do, however, want to be certain the pond does not revert to a free-flowing river.

Smith and Taylor formed a company, Mirror Pond LLC, in which each holds a 50 percent stake. “The purpose of the company is to preserve the integrity of Mirror Pond on the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon, for the greater good of the Central Oregon community and the future generations in Bend,” Taylor said, reading from the Mirror Pond LLC agreement. “This preservation will be at the high-level mark historically associated with the pond over the past 100 years.”

Taylor and Smith declined to provide a copy of this document or their real estate contract with the McKay family to The Bulletin, and they declined to discuss the terms of the purchase option agreement.

This revelation comes at a time when public officials are still considering whether to dredge silt that built up behind Newport dam, or whether to remove the dam. The Mirror Pond ad hoc committee, a combination of citizens, city councilors, park district board members and other officials, is discussing these options. Taylor and Smith plan to present their plan to the Mirror Pond ad hoc committee at its meeting Dec. 2.

“Review all the options you want,” Smith said. “If it’s not preserving the pond, it’s not an option that’s going to work.”

Public officials have said they must obtain permission from the McKay family, which claims ownership of land under Mirror Pond, in order to dredge the pond. Park district officials have also expressed interest in buying that land, which they could use to expand parks if the dam were removed and water levels lowered.

If no one does anything, mudflats will continue to build up in Mirror Pond. Mudflats were already revealed when the water level dropped in early October due to a leak in the dam. PacifiCorp, which owns the dam, announced Monday it does not plan to maintain the structure because repairs would be too expensive. Options including removing the dam or transferring ownership of it to a government agency or private owner.

Officials with the city of Bend and Bend Park & Recreation District did not learn of Smith and Taylor’s plan until late last week. Don Horton, executive director of the park district, said Taylor and Smith called him at that time and said they wanted to meet with him for an undisclosed reason. “So I showed up at Bill’s office late Friday afternoon,” Horton said. He said he was surprised at their announcement, but “after they explained what they’d done and why they did it, it made sense to me because they have the same desires, I think, to find a solution to the siltation issue and they were concerned someone else could come along and acquire the property.”

“I still don’t know what they (agreed to pay) for the property,” Horton said.

Park district officials also discussed the possibility of purchasing land under the pond, and researched ownership of it. Horton said he plans to ask the Mirror Pond ad hoc committee to decide at its next meeting whether to maintain the dam or another structure in order to preserve Mirror Pond, or remove the dam so the Deschutes River can flow freely in that stretch.

Many other officials said they were glad to hear of the contract that Smith and Taylor negotiated.

Ted Schoenborn, a member of the park district board and Mirror Pond ad hoc committee, said it is “a positive step.” City Councilor Victor Chudowsky, also a member of the ad hoc committee, supported the move. “I think it’s great that they did that, but that kind of was 50 percent of the problem,” Chudowsky said. “The other 50 percent is the future of the dam.”

Matt Shinderman, a member of the Mirror Pond ad hoc committee, said it is important to complete the public process to determine the future of Mirror Pond. Shinderman is an instructor at Oregon State University-Cascades Campus, where he teaches courses in environmental policy, sustainability and ecological restoration.

“There’s a lot of frustration out in the community about what seems like an indefinite process,” Shinderman said. “I’m sympathetic to it. It seems like it has gone on too long. But I also think to come up with a good decision, sometimes it takes time.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7829, hborrud@bendbulletin.com