A controversial plan to fund the removal of sediment from Mirror Pond passed a key hurdle on Tuesday, as the Bend Park & Recreation District’s board of directors expressed support for the project.

Near the end of a meeting Tuesday evening, the district board held an hourlong discussion about the pros and cons of the park district contributing $300,000 to a $6.7 million project to dredge the iconic pond. During the meeting, Brady Fuller, park district board chairman, said the project draws on a variety of funding sources and could provide a sustainable approach to dredging the pond again in the future.

However, board member Nathan Hovekamp noted that supporting the project now could rob the district of a chance to invest in infrastructure that could allow fish to move freely past Newport Avenue Dam, which forms the pond.

“We don’t have any commitment at all for a win for the river. None,” Hovekamp said.

The conversation Tuesday was the latest turn in a yearslong saga to try to remove sediment that has built up in the pond, which was last dredged in 1984. In some circles, the conversation revolves around whether to maintain Mirror Pond or restore the Deschutes River to a more natural state, which may require the removal of the Newport Avenue Dam, managed by Pacific Power.

The latest proposal to dredge the pond took shape during a meeting last week, when representatives from the park district and the city of Bend met with Mirror Pond Solutions, the private partnership that owns the land beneath the pond.

During the meeting, the representatives proposed that both the park district and the city contribute $300,000 to fund the dredging efforts, matching the total Mirror Pond Solutions received in private donations. The remaining $5.8 million would be covered by rate increases by Pacific Power customers in Bend.

In the past, the park district has been hesitant about using money from its general fund to dredge the pond, on the basis that it would affect other district projects, including preserving the crumbling banks of the Deschutes River and connecting the Mirror Pond area to the Deschutes River Trail. During the meeting Tuesday, Executive Director Don Horton said the district could provide the money, though he’d like to have additional discussion about where in the district’s budget it would come from.

Fuller said his committee received a letter from Pacific Power asserting its intent to keep Newport Avenue Dam in place, a blow to proponents of a free-flowing river. In part because of that, the board supported moving forward with the project now and postponing other considerations on the river until later, including Hovekamp’s suggestion of adding a fish ladder to the project.

“I think we have every reason to believe that dam will be there for at least another 20, 40 years,” said Ted Schoenborn, the board’s vice chairman.

The Bend City Council is planning to discuss funding for dredging the pond during its meeting Wednesday evening. After that, representatives from each of the three organizations are expected to meet one final time on Friday to iron out additional details.

—Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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