Editorial: Community and utility have competing interests on Mirror Pond dam

One issue about Mirror Pond has become crystal clear: The city and park district have interests that are in competition with those of dam owner PacifiCorp.

That’s not a criticism, but an important reality as conversations go forward.

PacifiCorp has decided it doesn’t make economic sense to continue to operate the dam to generate power. It could face millions of dollars in costs to remove the dam and restore the surroundings. The utility has a positive responsibility to its owners and ratepayers to limit those costs in a responsible manner.

The city of Bend and the Bend Park & Recreation District have declared they want to preserve Mirror Pond, which depends on the dam or some other structure to hold back the Deschutes River’s flow. They have a positive responsibility to do so in a manner that controls costs to taxpayers and ensures they don’t take over PacifiCorp’s liability.

We’ve always been in favor of preserving Mirror Pond, but it does depend on the cost.

So far, PacifiCorp hasn’t told the public what it estimates dam removal would cost. The park district has estimated $11 million, but it doesn’t have all the facts needed for an accurate conclusion. Good estimates for removal and restoration are critical to any discussion of the dam’s future, along with a clear idea of how much of that cost would be PacifiCorp’s responsibility.

Those are among the many questions — including the effect of state regulations and estimates of the costs to maintain the dam and dredge the pond — that must be answered before the public can make a judgment.

If, for example, we knew the entire cost of removal and restoration would rest on PacifiCorp, while preserving the existing pond would cost taxpayers many millions, would a majority support preserving the pond? Or would the utility contribute those funds to support maintaining the pond?

The community likely faces an extended period of research and negotiation. Its representatives need to keep front and center the fact that, no matter how good the intentions, the community’s interests are not the same as the utility’s.