In the game of compromise there are always winners and losers on both sides of the table. As the former project manager who worked with the Mirror Pond Steering Committee, I know the quest for a solution, if one could even call it that, is socially complex and politically powered.
I applaud the city of Bend and the Park District's efforts to step up and provide the planning funds necessary to seek a community-based "answer" to the siltation issues of Mirror Pond, an impoundment by the Pacific Power dam just downstream of the Newport Avenue Bridge.
As we march down this path, we can't help but hear an oft-repeated and very compelling question that was asked several times at last week's public presentation, hosted by Project Manager Jim Figurski. What exactly is Pacific Power's role in our community's current and robust planning efforts toward these types of creative solutions for Mirror Pond? Other than sitting on the Steering Committee, Pacific Power appears to have missed a great public relations opportunity to be a community-minded player in this process.
I'm confident that the end result of our efforts, after all the questionnaires, public meetings, debates and the grappling of our own values, lies a resolution that not only preserves the openness of a waterway with epic, tourist-attracting vistas, but also offers ecologically restored riparian habitat at the river's margins to enhance aquatic health. Perhaps even a Drake Park that "extends" into the river with boardwalk features for easy public interaction with the fish and wildlife. And yes, a more channelized, faster, and freer-flowing river.
Such a restructuring of the river would allow the waterway to function as it was meant to. It's now incumbent upon us to replace the river structure once destroyed in 1910 from the building of a dam, and further modified in the early '20s, with the creation of a "pond" that was dug deeper into the forest floor, thus creating the hardened, unnatural edge of Drake Park.
The pond was bordered and walled with lava masonry to create swimming pools and sailing reaches—literally. How natural, right?
Now, imagine the possibilities that could result from our current efforts: dredging portions of Mirror Pond and rechanneling it to just upstream of the dam, allowing the water to flow faster and the silt to stay suspended and dissipate downstream toward a newly restructured and re-engineered dam designed to handle the silt load. The dam would allow for safe passage for boaters and river enthusiasts, while native fish could ply their way upstream and into the healthy waters of our newly restored river way via a fish passage. The powerhouse for the dam and surrounding real estate could be the site of Bend's next economic redevelopment zone—perhaps we call it the Powerhouse District. Imagine dining and sipping a Powerhouse IPA in the summer on the deck of the restored, repurposed, and architecturally historic Powerhouse Brewery as you watch boaters, fishers and rafters play.
Granted, these are big—and some might even say lofty—ideas, but the economic upside of these possibilities, and the tourist-dollar impact for the city, are mind-boggling. The point is, folks, as Matt Shinderman put it so well in last week's guest commentary: "We've been served." The time to act is upon us.
For over a century, our Deschutes River in Bend has been overworked and manipulated in destructive ways to support economic gain for extractive industries. At that time, and for decades to follow, those uses were critical to the local economy. Now, the economic model has shifted, and we should thoughtfully and mindfully act on behalf of future generations. We should restore the river's naturalness, maintain those epic vistas, clean its waters, and think outside the economic box.
With the pooling of funds from the city and the park district, one would think—or at least it's the community's perception—that if Pacific Power's dam creates the lion's share of the problem (which it does), it would serve them and their community customers of Bend well by becoming part of the solution. They should share in these upfront planning costs with their partner agencies at the table. As this process toward inspiring possibilities and exciting solutions begins to unfold, our community will be listening for that answer.
Michael McLandress is the owner of Brightwater Collaborative LLC. From 2010-2011 he worked with the Mirror Pond Steering Committee as its project manager for Phase 1: Scope of Services. McLandress, an avid outdoorsman, remains grateful for that opportunity.