The city of Bend and the Bend Park & Recreation District would each pay $300,000 toward dredging Mirror Pond under a plan city councilors and park board members say they will float to their colleagues next week.
Representatives from the city and the park district met Thursday with Mirror Pond Solutions, the private group that owns the land under the pond. For well over a year, the group has sought contributions from the city and park district to pay the $6.7 million it would take to remove silt from the pond bottom.
“At some point, we just need to make a decision,” said Bend Mayor Casey Roats. “Are we going to put our money where our mouths are and keep the pond or not?”
The proposal they reached Thursday means the city and park district would match the $300,000 Mirror Pond Solutions has collected in private donations, and the remaining roughly $5.8 million would be paid by Pacific Power customers through their utility bills.
The city charges Pacific Power and other utility companies franchise fees, and companies pass the cost on to customers.
While numbers could change, the committee discussed increasing Pacific Power’s 5 percent franchise fee to 6.25 percent for nine years, then dropping it to 5.25 percent.
Increasing Bend’s franchise fee for Pacific Power still wouldn’t take it as high as Redmond’s, where the Pacific Power franchise fee is 7 percent.
Any increases to Pacific Power franchise fees will come on top of Bend’s desire to increase other utility fees. Bend residents are paying $1 to $3 more a month because of a June council decision that raised sewer and water fees to pay for two new roads. The council will also vote later this year on whether or not to hike sewer rates to pay some of the costs of connecting homes on septic systems to the city sewer.
Mirror Pond Solutions is willing to take on debt for 10 years for the dredging project, said Todd Taylor, owner of Taylor Northwest Construction company and co-founder of Mirror Pond Solutions. Increasing the franchise fee for the first nine years would cover an annual debt payment of $765,000, he said, and the continued increase of .25 percent would provide an ongoing $190,000 annually for pond maintenance.
This funding method omits a fish ladder through the Pacific Power dam that created the pond, something committee members previously agreed could assuage environmental concerns about dredging. That fish passage may be critical to getting support from the park board, said Nathan Hovekamp, a park board member who works as the wildlife program director at the environmental nonprofit Central Oregon LandWatch.
“It’s difficult for me to predict what our full board will say in the absence of a firm commitment to have a win for the river,” Hovekamp said.
Old Mill District developer Bill Smith, who co-founded Mirror Pond Solutions, said focusing on a fish ladder as part of dredging instead of separating the projects was “obstructionist.”
“You’re making this project hostage to the fish ladder, and as much as we like fish, we shouldn’t be holding our project up on a fish ladder,” he told Hovekamp.
Park board chairman Brady Fuller said he wanted to see a full accounting of the project costs before he was comfortable allocating money. He said he was concerned about what kind of exposure the park district would have if Mirror Pond Solutions donates the land under the pond to the district after it’s dredged and there isn’t an ongoing source of money for pond maintenance.
The Bend City Council also has skeptics. Councilors Barb Campbell and Nathan Boddie have adamantly opposed spending public money on dredging the pond, and Councilor Bill Moseley has said he’s uncomfortable with using franchise fee revenue to pay for the project because that money could be used for infrastructure improvements. Boddie’s term ends in December, but his successor, Gena Goodman-Campbell, said during her campaign she thought Smith and Taylor should pay for dredging themselves.
Pacific Power has not participated in either of the committee meetings, but representatives are expected to be at a third and final meeting Dec. 7. By that point, members will know how the City Council and park board feel, Councilor Bruce Abernethy said.
“We’ll either get the thumbs up or, if it’s a thumbs down, we’ll move to a plan B,” he said.
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