An ambitious plan to remove the Mirror Pond dam and redevelop a wide swath of downtown Bend riverfront was unveiled Friday at a meeting of the Mirror Pond Ad Hoc Committee.
The proposal is the latest turn in a nearly two-year process to address sediment buildup in Mirror Pond, a process that took an abrupt turn when a hole opened up in the dam late last year.
Since then Pacific Power, the owner of the dam, announced its intention to give up on using the dam for power generation, putting the future of the 100-year-old structure in question.
Under the proposal introduced Friday, Pacific Power would hand over the dam and the land surrounding it to the city and the Bend Park & Recreation District. The utility would move its substation to an area near the Revere Avenue off-ramp from the Bend Parkway, and the city and park district would be responsible for removing and replacing the dam.
The dam would be replaced with a series of pools and riffles that would preserve the current upstream water level while providing improved fish passage, and the surrounding land would be made available for redevelopment.
The city and the park district are proposing selling or leasing their own lands in the area, in addition to land obtained from Pacific Power, to finance Mirror Pond improvements without turning to taxpayers. However, no cost estimates were discussed Friday.
The city would seek development proposals for the two public parking lots adjacent to Drake Park, while replacing the lost parking with a parking garage. The park district would seek proposals for Pacific Park, located between the dam and Portland Avenue. Including the land now occupied by Pacific Power, the plan would open a nearly unbroken stretch from Riverside Boulevard to Portland Avenue for redevelopment.
“Pacific Park, the two Mirror Pond parking lots, and PacifiCorp’s powerhouse, parking lot and substation would be repurposed into new mixed-use development including public spaces, plazas, restaurants, small businesses, housing and public parking,” according to the redevelopment concept.
The park district would create a new Pacific Park near the current substation with money from the sale of the present park site.
District Executive Director Don Horton emphasized that the proposal introduced Friday is a “30,000-foot view” in need of additional study, refinement and public input. The first public meetings on the plan have been scheduled for Dec. 4.
“If this is our crown jewel here in Bend, we need to do it right,” Horton said.
City Councilor Mark Capell, a member of the ad hoc committee, said though the proposal would require dredging Mirror Pond, alterations to the river channel to slightly increase the speed of the current should slow the buildup of sediment in the future.
“We don’t want to have this same discussion 20 or 30 years from now about what to do about sedimentation,” he said.
To eliminate slow, sediment-prone areas, the beach area just downstream of the Galveston Avenue bridge would be filled in, with the beach moved farther downstream. The islands visible from the beach would be expanded, and more fill would be added in the shallow areas behind the stage at Drake Park and at Brooks Park.
Horton said dredging may be necessary before the development aspects of the plan are generating any income to pay for it. If parts of Mirror Pond begin transforming into wetlands, and if the threatened Oregon spotted frog moved into the area, it would be a “game changer” that could greatly complicate getting the necessary permits.
Capell said recent meetings with Pacific Power have been very positive, and the utility is expected to report back to the committee in the next couple of months.
Pacific Power spokesman Bob Gravely said replacing the substation wouldn’t be a simple process — the utility would have to build a new substation before removing the current one — but the company is very interested in finding a way to divest itself from the dam and continuing the discussion with local officials.
“We’re fairly agnostic on what this all looks like, as long as at the end of the day, it’s something we can justify to our regulators and ratepayers as being in their best interests,” Gravely said.
Others attending Friday’s meeting who are not on the committee were largely positive about the proposal.
Jayson Bowerman, a member of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance who’s been closely involved with the effort to build the Safe Passage project at the Colorado Avenue dam, said the Mirror Pond proposal could help reclaim the “heart of downtown” by improving public access to the river. He encouraged the committee to consider a mechanism that would allow the level of the pond to be raised and lowered, flushing sediment out of the pond as seen during low water conditions last winter.
Chuck Arnold, director of the Downtown Bend Business Association, said he is very excited about the plan but concerned public parking could be taken away before it could be replaced elsewhere. He suggested redevelopment be phased downstream to upstream, which could buy more time to develop the necessary parking facilities.
Mike Riley from the Bend 2030 board called the plan a “positive step forward” that aligns well with the Bend 2030 vision for a vibrant, mixed-use downtown.
He said changes to the pond will likely attract tube floaters and paddlers to venture farther downstream than they do today, and refinements of the plan should study water take-outs and other ways to accommodate such users.
— Reporter: 541-383-0387,