The private group that plans to dredge Mirror Pond almost has the permits it needs to start the $6.7 million project next July. It just doesn’t have the money.
Mirror Pond Solutions, a partnership between Old Mill District developer Bill Smith and Taylor NW construction company owner Todd Taylor, plans to pay for the dredging project with contributions from residents, the city of Bend, the Bend Park & Recreation District and Pacific Power and Light. Taylor said he expects private donations to exceed $300,000, but none of the other entities are eager to contribute to the silt removal project.
Taylor and Smith, who jointly own the land under Mirror Pond, proposed using the same cost-sharing arrangement used in 1984, the last time the pond was dredged.
With the current price tag, that would leave the city of Bend contributing about $1.4 million, the park district pitching in about $1 million and Pacific Power paying about $4 million.
“I think there’s a responsibility for all of them to contribute,” Taylor said.
City Manager Eric King, Mayor Casey Roats, Mayor Pro Tem Sally Russell and city staff met with Mirror Pond Solutions and heard the group wanted $1.1 million from the city for dredging costs, spokeswoman Anne Aurand wrote in an email.
“The city made no commitments at that meeting,” she said. “Any city financial involvement in this project would need to be made by the full council at a public meeting, with community input; no meetings are currently scheduled and the city has not been involved with any additional meetings since then.”
Councilor Nathan Boddie questioned why, if the project belongs to Taylor and Smith, the city should use public money to pay for it. A bond measure, in which voters decide whether to allocate money to specific projects, might work, he said.
“If the city council and/or the parks board starts spending tax money on this, I’m sure people would want to know what we’re giving up to do it,” Boddie said. “Are we gonna not pave some roads so we can do the project?”
Whether the city of Bend contributes will depend on a lot of factors, including what other entities give, what the final plans look like and whether the pond would need to be dredged again in a few decades, Russell said. But the most important consideration, she said, was whether Bend taxpayers thought paying for the pond project was a worthwhile use of the city’s limited budget.
“We definitely need to be sure that there’s a connection between community values and any decision we make, be it Mirror Pond or anything else,” Russell said. “I’m certainly not willing to commit any taxpayer or ratepayer money until we know more.”
The City Council won’t be ready to discuss whether to contribute until Mirror Pond Solutions has a final plan, she said.
“There are a lot of decisions to be made and permit work to be done before we would be in a position to decide whether to contribute,” Russell said.
The Oregon Department of State Lands was expected to rule on a Mirror Pond Solutions permit application in late September, but it pushed the decision deadline to the end of December to give the group time to respond to concerns brought up by scientists from the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In a September letter, the department asked Mirror Pond Solutions to explain how workers will plant native species to mitigate the negative effects of dredging on the river’s food chain.
Taylor said the group will meet that deadline.
As long as Mirror Pond Solutions clarifies its plans, the department will approve the project, Eastern Region Manager Nancy Pustis said.
“At this point, there’s no reason why we would not approve it,” Pustis said.
Another usage permit is under review from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which wants additional information on sediment in the pond. Taylor said the group should have a response to the Army Corps by early November.
He updated the Bend Park & Recreation District on the project’s progress in early September but didn’t formally request funding at the time.
The park district is focused on its own project in Mirror Pond: extending the bank in Drake Park to fill in about a quarter-acre of stagnant water. It’s part of a larger $5 million project to repair and update the east bank of the Deschutes River in Drake Park and add a multiuse riverside trail.
Board chairman Nathan Hovekamp said the district is focused on completing the Deschutes River Trail because it promised constituents it would, and restoring crumbling retaining walls along the river in Drake Park to a more natural state is a key part of this.
The project’s designers are looking at how silt in the pond, which he understands is a combination of overflow from Bend’s stormwater system and complex sources of sediment from upstream, will affect the bank restoration.
“The position of the park and recreation board is that we are going to be extremely cautious about spending any more public money than we’ve already committed,” Hovekamp said.
Pacific Power intends to “partner with other stakeholders to find a long-term solution that helps the community realize its vision for Mirror Pond,” the company said in an emailed statement. However, the utility company has not agreed to pay for any of the project.
“While the company has been identified publicly as a potential funding source for Mirror Pond dredging, at this point there is no agreement or specific plan in place,” the statement said.
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, firstname.lastname@example.org