Wherever you land on the issue of dredging Mirror Pond, some things are certain: Many people have strong opinions about dredging the pond—and those opinions vary widely.
When there are varying opinions about a matter that has the potential to affect public budgets, the public should have every opportunity to gather information.
Until 2016, there were three options on the table for the impoundment south of the Newport Dam: remove the dam and let the river flow free, dredge the silt out or do nothing. Following Pacific Power's 2016 decision not to sell Newport Dam, we're left with only the last two options.
Mirror Pond Solutions, which owns the land underneath the pond, has been steadily moving forward with the dredging option. The only issue is, that group doesn't feel compelled to pay the entire cost of the dredging and wants the City of Bend and the Bend Park and Recreation District—and possibly Pacific Power—to contribute. Thus far, MPS has secured about $300,000 to go toward dredging, currently projected to cost about $6.7 million.
Members of Mirror Pond Solutions sat down with a member of our editorial board in May, just after securing permits for dredging from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Oregon Department of State Lands and others. A sense of history drives MPS to move this costly project forward.
"We feel it's been an iconic piece of property in Central Oregon for many years, and it's served all different walks of life," states Todd Taylor, co-owner of Mirror Pond Solutions. "If it's in a canoe or sitting on the banks with your feet in the water feeding the ducks—whatever venue you want to use the pond, it's been there for people."
During that meeting, members of MPS contended that numerous stormwater drains, owned by the City of Bend, flowing into the river at or near the pond, are the primary contributors to the silt buildup they say now necessitates dredging. In a report published by the Source Weekly in October 2016, the City's utility director refuted the claim that the street outfalls were the sole source of sediment buildup. So, too, do experts on watershed management.
"The 60-mile reach of the Deschutes River upstream from Bend produces a lot of sediment because the highly erodible soils are easily washed downstream when flows from Wickiup Reservoir are ramped up and down throughout the year," explains Ryan Houston, executive director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council. "This unnatural fluctuation has led to excessive bank erosion and a widening of the river channel, sending sediment downstream. This connection between flow management and erosion/sedimentation is very well known in the watershed management community and broadly accepted as the primary mechanism behind the high sedimentation rates along the Deschutes. As this sediment moves downstream, it collects in eddies, slow-moving reaches and, ultimately, behind the dams in Bend."
In its Stormwater Master Plan, funded through utility fees, the City has included a "pipe rehabilitation program incorporating components intended to add better filtration to the stormwater drains that drain into the Deschutes River," stated Stormwater Program Manager Wendy Edde.
But whether those drains are the major cause of the sediment buildup in Mirror Pond—or not—MPS believes the City of Bend should cover at least $1 million for dredging. MPS also wants BPRD to pay $2.3 million, citing a (non-binding) Memorandum of Understanding signed by MPS and the Park District in 2016 that outlined future plans for Mirror Pond, including bank rehabilitation and habitat restoration. That MOU was signed before Pacific Power decided not to sell Newport Dam.
Thus far, neither BPRD nor the City of Bend have committed any funds—though the city is looking into it, in a concerning fashion. This month, Bend Mayor Casey Roats formed a work group, the Mirror Pond Dredging Fact Finding Committee, which includes councilors Bruce Abernethy, Justin Livingston and Sally Russell, tasking them with gathering details about the proposed dredging project. The group will report back to the wider council about what they found. Important to note: When three of seven elected officials meet, they do not constitute a quorum, and are therefore not subject to Oregon's Public Meetings Law.
We believe the formation of a non-quorum work group harms transparency. We should have access to information about how the committee was selected and what information they're considering. The "work group" was formed to gather information, but ultimately, in that gathering of information, the "reporting back" they'll do with the wider council will be colored by each of the committee members' individual perspectives.
This from Oregon Revised Statute 192.630:
"(2) A quorum of a governing body may not meet in private for the purpose of deciding on or deliberating toward a decision on any matter except as otherwise provided by ORS 192.610 to 192.690."
In this case, we believe the work group's efforts can be characterized as "deliberating toward a decision."
While the mayor has Oregon's Public Meetings Law on his side in terms of a quorum, that decision is certainly not in the interest of transparency—nor is it in the interest of Mirror Pond Solutions.
Want to turn someone who's on the fence about an issue against you? Then put parts of the process behind closed doors. With an issue as contentious and costly as dredging Mirror Pond, nothing short of complete transparency should be the goal.