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Bend council votes to keep Mirror Pond - if many ifs answered

By John Hendricks
Barney Lerten
Published On: Dec 24 2013 05:51:24 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 05 2013 03:06:58 PM CST

NewsChannel 21's John Hendricks reports on the latest developments with Mirror Pond in Bend.

The Bend City Council unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday night, backing the Mirror Pond Ad-Hoc Committee's view that the iconic pond should stay.

But they acknowledged that costs, regulations and talks with Pacific Power over the fate of the century-old dam that created it will weigh into the final outcome.

"It's a complicated situation," Mayor Jim Clinton said. "We're sorry it's so complicated, but that's just the way it is."

Before the council voted on the resolution, much like one that drew unanimous park board approval Tuesday night, they heard from several Bend residents.

Ron Boozell told the council the river should run wild and free.

"Mirror Pond represents another era -- I feel no obligation to carry it on," Boozell said. "It doesn't make sense economically, financially, or environmentally."

He added many people he has spoken with say they don't want to pay to keep the pond.

"If you are going to start talking about money, or any other consideration of support at all for this you are going to find a groundswell of support of people that want their river back." Boozell said.

"The era of Mirror Pond is over -- welcome to Mirror River," he added.

Barb Campbell also addressed the council, handing bags of popcorn to each one. She voiced frustration over the $100,000 to $200,000 spent trying to figure out what the public would like to see done with the pond, without knowing how much the options would cost.

She handed out bags of free popcorn to those in attendance and the council.

"If all you are getting is a show, you should at least get popcorn with the show. I would like you to actually ask the people what do they want to do."

But she added: "I would like them to not to be asked until we know what our options are -- and how much the options are going to cost."

After taking public testimony, the council began discussing the situation.

Councilors Mark Capell and Victor Chudowsky have both been part of the Mirror Pond steering committee.

"My No. 1 priority is that it needs to remain beautiful,"" Capell said. But he also wants a "sustainable" solution that doesn't land local agencies back in the same issue that sparked the years of roiling debate -- a need to dredge the silt piling up in the pond.

Last month, PacifiCorp, owner of the Newport Avenue dam, inspected a leak that arose this fall and the overall condition of the wooden dam, and announced that it would not be cost-effective to continue generating power there.

Capell says negotiations over the dam have begun. He says PacifiCorp would like to sell the dam to whoever wants it, or decommission it.

Capell noted that the best estimate so far is that, to tear the dam down and repair the area could cost the company close to $11 million. At the other extreme, he said, the city wants the dam fixed -- then handed over to whomever (not the city, though, he said -- some new overseer perhaps, or the park board.

He also said any notions that the city was going to put a lot of money into retaining the pond are untrue.

Despite backing the resolution desiring pond preservation, Capell added that they were making "no commitment about is it a pond, is it a river, is it a dam. I don't know the answers to these things yet. There's still a lot of work to be done."

Capell argues, it would be cheaper for the company to as the city wants

"It would seem to me to be a pretty good business decision from Pacific Power's perspective to spend $10 million giving us a new dam and a new Mirror Pond, rather than $11 million to decommission it," Capell said.

He added it would be tough for the city to take on the project due to a lack of funds.

"If we spend anything, it's going to be very miniscule." Capell said. "The city doesn't have money to sink into this black hole. If there are expenses that Pacific Power isn't covering, we're going to need to go to the voters to get it."

Also, he said, he likely would vote against transferring ownership of the pond to the city: "It's not our area of expertise," he said. "We don't have the funding to manage it. Whether a new taxing district is formed, it goes to the park district or whatever, we're just trying to move the process along.

Chudowsky argued the city needs the pond to be at its normal level in the summertime and that the river and pond have become big business, not only for private companies but for the Cascades East Transit system.

"Between July 4th and Labor Day, they (CET) bring in $11,000 in fares." Chudosky said. "If you divide that by they fare, you come up with 7,300 people in two months who use that service."

He says those numbers are just those riding the shuttle, and figures about 15,000 people use the river in the summertime.

Councilor Doug Knight also weighed in, agreeing the city needs the pond to stay, if possible, and called it "an amazing opportunity to create something amazing, where we provide something for everyone. We can do that only if we maintain the upstream water surface of Mirror Pond."

"You can not grow leaves and cut off your roots," Knight told Boozell. "You have to embrace the past. This pond and what it represents is the single most important resource of our past in this community."

Before councilors voted Wednesday night, Mayor Clinton reiterated what he has been saying all along: There could be a different, creative solution, not just taking out the dam or fixing it.

He says the Bend Paddle Trail has come up with an idea where the dam would be taken out.

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Clinton pointed to an illustration that showed a rock barrier near the Newport Avenue Dam. Mirror Pond would still be formed and gradually the water level would be lowered downstream. Clinton said this would be a natural option and would not require a fish ladder, for example.

The negotiations over the dam will continue; both sides are expected to meet again Friday.

Chudowsky said no fewer than five entities would have to provide permits if construction is to take place, and that options are expected to go to a vote.

"What we're doing here is setting a goal, a certain direction," he said. "It's still up in the air as to whether they will come about."

Also still up in the air -- but due to a split 3-3 vote and Sally Russell's absence -- is a long-standing request by a citizens group to put a referendum on the city ballot opposing and seeking to overturn the controversial "Citizens United" decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dozens of cities across the country have had councilors urge lawmakers to act in the wake of that decision, which freed corporations from limits on campaign spending and, in critics' view, equated money with speech and gave corporations equal rights to people.

Councilors Clinton, Knight and Jodie Barram said they'd agree to send the measure to the May ballot, as it won't cost the city to add an item to a general election ballot. But colleagues Capell, Chudowsky and Scott Ramsay opposed such a move, for various reasons.

Chudowsky was the most strongly opposed, saying the group's goal is to limit free speech. Ramsay said he didn't believe it was the proper process and would not change anything or have any bearing on the eventual outcome of the issue at the federal level. Capell said supporters of such a vote should gather enough signatures to put it on the ballot on their own, without council involvement.

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