A private group hopes to start dredging Mirror Pond in July, but one of the men who own the land under the pond acknowledged that it’s a “long shot” that anything will happen this summer.
Taylor Northwest construction company owner Todd Taylor, who jointly owns the land under the pond with Old Mill District developer Bill Smith, said during a meeting with The Bulletin’s editorial board that there are 50-50 odds that the dredging can get done this year. Private donors have committed about $300,000 to their partnership, Mirror Pond Solutions, and the group’s trying to make up the remainder of the $6.7 million project with contributions from the city of Bend, the Bend Park & Recreation District and Pacific Power and Light.
“We believe that there’s responsibility on all parties,” Taylor said during a meeting last week with the City Council and parks board. “Our hope would be in a perfect world that we could get it dredged this year.”
Mirror Pond Solutions wants $2.3 million from the park district and at least $1 million from the city, but neither park board members nor city councilors are clamoring to pay for the project. Councilors and park board members did tentatively agree to form a joint group to research funding.
Rather than forming a temporary committee that’s subject to Oregon’s open meetings law, the city of Bend will create a “fact-finding working group” that’s not legally required to hold open meetings, city spokeswoman Anne Aurand wrote in an email.
She said if a small group of councilors form a subcommittee that will recommend policy to the rest of the City Council, it would be subject to the open meetings law. But because the group will only be gathering and reporting information, the city’s attorney doesn’t consider it a governing body, and therefore, the city won’t need to tell the public when meetings occur.
When a group of three councilors reviewed the City Council’s rules and brought recommended amendments back to the rest of the Council in the fall, those meetings had publicly posted agendas and were open to the public. But when three councilors researched strategies to make housing more affordable for Bend residents this spring, their discussions weren’t publicized.
The City Council and the park board are each expected to appoint members to this working group during their first meetings in June. Pacific Power, which owns the 102-year-old dam near Newport Avenue that formed the pond, also may participate.
Discussions on how to pay for dredging are ongoing, Pacific Power spokesman Bob Gravely wrote in an email. He said franchise fees — fees utility companies pay the city of Bend and typically pass on to their customers — could be a source of funding, but the company and the city haven’t agreed to anything.
“We believe there is a workable solution here, but more time is needed to work through the details,” he continued.
City councilors recently agreed to increase water and sewer franchise fees to complete Empire Avenue and Murphy Road and speed the construction of homes and businesses outside city limits. At the time, some councilors expressed concerns about the increases, which would be about $1 to $3 more a month for the average homeowner.
Mayor Pro Tem Sally Russell, who was one of the councilors hesitant to increase franchise fees for Empire Avenue and Murphy Road, said she wanted to have the conversation about how to pay to dredge Mirror Pond.
“With all the demands on us as a community, as well as a council, and our constrained funding strings, we’re going to need to get creative,” she said. “We’ve got to move through this conversation.”
She said that conversation needs to include ways to be sure that Mirror Pond won’t need to be dredged again.
The pond, a small lake in the Deschutes River between the Newport dam and the former Colorado dam site, has been filling with sediment since it was dredged in 1984.
Taylor and Smith plan to remove 75,000 cubic yards — the equivalent of 900,000 full wheelbarrows — of silt, bringing the pond back to its 1984 condition. A barge would float on the surface of the pond, drop a vacuum into it and carry debris and water through a pipe floating on the pond’s surface to a processing yard in a nearby parking lot. From there, the vacuumed-up materials would go through a press to squeeze out moisture, and the water would be put back in the river.
The silt would be taken in trucks to Knott Landfill and used to cover garbage at the end of the day. It couldn’t be used to fill in the old landfill at the Oregon State University-Cascades campus because it has no structural value, said Paul MacClanahan, a project manager with Taylor Northwest.
Most of the silt comes from 11 city stormwater drains that empty into the river, Taylor said. When the pond drained a few years ago because of a hole in the Pacific Power dam, the red cinders Bend used on its roadways stood out in the muck.
“We think there’s some responsibility from the city,” Taylor said. “We own the land. You’re dumping crap on the land.”
Not all of the sediment in the pond comes from Bend’s stormwater system, said Wendy Eddy, the city’s stormwater program manager.
“Dams tend to slow rivers down,” Eddy said. “When that happens, heavier stuff falls out. We see sedimentation build up behind dams everywhere.”
Rain and runoff from about 1,670 acres in Bend — 8 percent of the total 33 square miles in the city — end up in the river via storm drains. Many of those are older pipes, and the city’s been setting aside money to replace them.
Eddy said she works with residents and municipal maintenance crews to make sure only rain goes through storm drains. In areas with more pavement, asphalt, roofs and other hard surfaces, rain and snow aren’t absorbed by greenery, and runoff occurs at greater speeds and heavier volumes, picking up small pieces of debris and liquids from leaking cars and carrying them through the stormwater system.
“In the areas that drain to the river, it can drain through the storm drains,” she said.
Park board member Ellen Grover said during the meeting that she supported pulling together a group to discuss dredging and broader stormwater issues.
“It’s not just about dredging,” she said. “It’s about that riparian improvement and addressing the stormwater issues.”
Fixing stormwater issues is something the city can work on, Bend City Councilor Barb Campbell said, even if she doesn’t see the city having money to spare for dredging.
“I can’t imagine how the city could help with the funding, but I don’t object to the city in the process as a partner,” she said. “Certainly, the city needs to fix our stormwater problem.”
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