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Consultants start work on Mirror Pond plan

By Barney Lerten
Joe Burns
Published On: Mar 11 2013 11:46:16 AM CDT
Updated On: Mar 04 2013 08:57:33 PM CST

What will happen to Mirror Pond? An architecture firm tasked with helping reach a decision visited the site today and we were there.

BEND, Ore. -

Silt build-up in Mirror Pond has prompted a lot of debate about whether to dredge the pond or get rid of the dam and let the river flow free or do something in between those two extreme options.

On Monday, the Mirror Pond Steering Committee met with the landscape architecture firm hired to help craft four alternatives.

Green Works is the architecture firm charged with the challenging task.

It's based out of Portland and it will be their job to show the visual impacts.

Mirror Pond Project Manager Jim Figuski and Green Works owner Mike Faha know just how important their task will be.

"I think it's going to be one of the highest profile projects in the city of Bend for some time," Faha said. "We recognize how important it is to the citizens here. Because there is going to be a lot of differences of opinion, the hard part will be when that is all together and develop consensus."

Green works will illustrate the four options they'll come up with for the public which will include cost estimates and regulatory requirements.

"Our job is to help inform them, to bring in technical expertise," Faha said. "And to help people understand how this might look and really do a good job in visually what these options could look like."

While Monday was the kick-off meeting, there are still many more steps to go through to help clean up Mirror Pond.

The variety of opinions expressed in an unscientific survey leave the path of action and future fate of Bend’s iconic Mirror Pond as unsettled and murky as the gooey silt that has piled up over the nearly three decades since it was last dredged clean.

On the other hand, results released late Friday of the survey, conducted online and at public meetings, show the most popular choice – by a slim margin – just might offer a middle ground among the five broad approaches laid out for the nearly 1,900 folks who took part in the survey, the full results of which can be found at http://www.mirrorpondbend.com.

Much of the talk has focused on the two ends of the spectrum -- another dredging to keep the pond much as it has been for many decades, or removing a hydroelectric dam that formed the pond -- but may no longer be needed -- and thus letting the stretch of river flow freely, for the first time since Bend's earliest days.

The choice that gained 29 percent “very desirable” and 24 percent “desirable” support is, indeed, a middle ground -- and a possible effort to change things enough to prevent the siltation problem from reoccurring.

That slim majority supported the described goal to “remove all the silt on the pond and change the shape of the river channel and pond, creating rapids or other conditions that would carry the silt away in the future.”

In other words, with much discussion and decision-making left, a majority may not favor removing the hydro dam that created the pond about a century ago, but also not to set things up so there’s yet another hullabaloo and millions spent in another few decades to dredge the silt again, as last was done in 1984.

Still, a strong 42 percent (27 percent very desirable, 15 percent desirable) would instead favor less change -- to “remove all the silt in the pond and repeat this as often as needed (maybe every 15-20 years) to keep Mirror Pond as it looks now (a flat, open expanse of water).”

However, in categorizing the open-ended responses to some of the questions, two brought 57 and 63 percent support for removing the dam and allowing the river to flow naturally. Keeping the look of Mirror Pond as it is got, at most, 24 percent of those open-ended responses. (Pacific Power has said it might stop operating its dam, which powers about 500 homes, if it becomes too spendy to maintain.)

A few more details: Nearly half (46 percent) of those who filled out the survey said they live in northwest Bend (including those closest to the pond), while more than a third (36 percent) said they’ve lived in Bend for more than 20 years.

Also, nearly half said they visit one of the parks along the pond once a month or less, mostly by walking the adjacent paths.

Project Manager Jim Figurski said the questionnaireresults were quite interesting but “not really” surprising.

“It’s really a weather vane, to kind of see where the winds of opinion and desire are blowing,” he said. “It’s not a focused, randomized survey.”

Next up, those in the project will create four different solutions for the community consider, each including illustrations to show the visual impact, as well as cost estimates, regulatory requirements, challenges and opportunities.

The community will be invited again in May to give input online, at public meetings and at various community events.

“I think my job is to keep an open mind,” Figurski said. “I’m hopeful that as we move through the alternatives, that both of these camps” – those favoring the current look of the pond or a totally free-flowing river – “will be pleasantly surprised about what can be done. There’s room in the middle.”

If nothing is done for some time, Figurski said, one committee member surmised the pond could end up looking like how the river moves through the Old Mill District above the Colorado Avenue dam, a wetlands with cattails, etc., and some bank restoration.

The Mirror Pond Steering Committee, created in 2009 by the city council to review the options, will review the survey results at a meeting Monday at 11 a.m. at the City Hall board room, also meeting with the consulting team for the Mirror Pond “visioning” project, to start looking at the alternatives to draft for the second phase. The consultants also will be doing field work and site visits.

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