Lazily floating down the Deschutes, past the Old Mill and, after a short portage, into Drake Park near downtown Bend, has for years been a Central Oregon summertime ritual. But this year that casual cool down may be interrupted.
City councilor Victor Chudowsky worries that the leaking Newport Avenue dam will mean a shallower river and pond come summer—one that won't make for a leisurely float, but a boney downstream game of human pinball. At a Mirror Pond Ad Hoc group meeting earlier this month, Chudowsky voiced his concerns and gave a nod to the building frustration within the community.
"This summer that recreation opportunity will be diminished," stated Chudowsky during the public meeting, referring to the thousands of tubers, who may be high and dry in 2014. "And this summer is when we're going to be hearing about this."
Citing numbers based on tubing shuttle trips provided to him by an area bus service, Chudowsky reckons somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 people float through town each season. Floating, Chudowsky added, also represents significant seasonal income for a number of area businesses. Cascades East Transit runs a shuttle service for tubers. According to Chudowsky, last year the transit service transported 7,400 tubers between July 4 and Labor Day (Sept. 2). Sun Country Tours, a local rafting company, also runs a shuttle service and rents tubes for $10 to $15. Neither service could be reached for comment before press time. Westside Bend eateries similarly benefit from the throngs of summertime floaters.
With low flows a real possibility, this summer could be a bust for tubers. During a follow-up interview with the Source ,Chudowsky framed the impending floating problem succinctly.
"You're going to be scraping your ass on a rock," he said.
With no plans to repair the Pacific Power-owned dam yet in place, Chudowsky may well be onto something.
Last fall, Pacific Power stated that it no longer planned to operate the hydropower facility at the 103-year-old Newport Avenue dam. The utility company has since been looking to offload the dam, possibly on the city. The city of Bend, along with the Bend Park & Recreation District, have shown interest in acquiring the structure as the dam creates the iconic Mirror Pond, a shallow body of warm water that's fast filling with silt and in need of a fix.
Pacific Power's decision to divest its interests in the dam was made after a significant leak was discovered in one of the structure's 13 wooden bays—a fact that has further complicated negotiations between city representatives and Pacific Power officials. While the community remains split on whether to keep the dam and dredge the pond to preserve its historic look, or remove the dam and let the river run free, a decision-making body called the Mirror Pond Ad Hoc group has opted to work toward maintaining the pond.
In the meantime, Chudowsky offered a simple fix for the leaking dam: block the hole with a corrugated steel sheet. Pacific Power repaired previous leaks in 2008 and 2009 with sheet piling. There's even a chance Pacific Power would be willing to spring for such an affordable, yet immediate repair.
But action should be taken soon. The leak, which was once described by city officials as "basketball sized," has grown to the size of a shopping cart.
The leaking dam aside, another potential issue faces hopeful floaters this summer—the planned upgrades associated with the Colorado Dam Safe Passage project. Construction is slated to begin as early as July. And although river users already portage around the Colorado dam, a park closure at nearby McKay Park—a reality which may be required during construction—could impact floaters further.
"The river is already going to be troubled this year," Ted Schoenborn admitted during the January Mirror Pond Ad Hoc meeting. Schoenborn is on the park district's board of directors and is a member of the nine-man Mirror Pond Ad Hoc work group. He suggested all energies be devoted to finishing construction in 2014 so that users won't face a similar predicament the following summer.
The potential for a no-float summer is just one of the myriad challenges facing the Mirror Pond Ad Hoc group. Still to be decided is what a preferred alternative for the pond will look like and how will it be paid for.
During the early January Mirror Pond Ad Hoc meeting, city councilor Mark Capell seemed to share Chudowsky's increasing concerns—and those of the community.
"One of the things I think we're all going to start feeling here, come spring, is impatience with this project."