November has been a cruel month for public process in Bend.
Last week, we reported on the continued drama surrounding the City of Bend's major $69 million project to modernize Bend's water delivery and treatment system. Namely, city council's Nov. 6, city council approval of a membrane filtration system to keep the city's water safe.
Our concern wasn't the ultimate outcome of the city councils 4-3 vote to select that technology over a UV system, but rather that the process and pathway to that vote has left a city council sharply divided—and that the decision was largely led by city staff members at the Water Division, as opposed to a robust public discussion. Moreover, that vote wedged yet more division into a project that already has its share of discord. On Nov. 13, Central Oregon LandWatch filed second a federal lawsuit to halt another section of the drinking water project; that requested injunction is a virtual repeat of one approved last year that halted construction of a large pipe to drain water from Tumalo Creek ("Who Will Speak for the Fish," Nov. 21).
Our rising concern is that a small group involved in these major public projects is leapfrogging public process—and justifying doing so by their desire to move forward. Unfortunately, the attitude that the ends justify the means does not seem to be limited to City Hall.
On Monday, after deciding it was too expensive to continue with operations and repairs, Pacific Power announced it was looking to divest its interests in the 103-year-old dam that creates Mirror Pond. Such an announcement should have opened the door (or, er, floodgates) for vigorous discussions (and may yet still; fingers crossed) about keeping the pond or returning the river to a more natural state. But, on the very same day, local businessmen Bill Smith and Todd Taylor proclaimed they were buying the land under Mirror Pond for the express purpose of maintaining a pond.
We acknowledge that the Source has openly opposed preserving the dam, and advocated for returning the Deschutes River to its free-flowing state. But, we want to emphasize: We are not discussing the river-over-pond issue here, but are spotlighting the process that is being used to reach that ultimate decision.
Yes, we say hats off to Smith and Taylor. Their actions are noble—to try to save Mirror Pond, an icon of Bend, is admirable, as is the effort to move forward the discussion that has been treading water for years. But that offer to buy the land under Mirror Pond in the name of retaining a pond at all costs ignores public opinion and the process of finding a community-based solution. Currently, the river-versus-pond debate is evenly split. The move also may sweep away the meaningful debate that has gone on for the past several years. Just last week, three knowledgeable citizen members were appointed to the nine-man Mirror Pond Ad Hoc Committee—the ultimate decision-making body—in the hopes of adding greater perspective to the group. To swoop in and mandate a solution at the expense of public dialogue is troubling.
Thankfully, though, it seems as if Oregon State University-Cascades is honoring the concept that process does really matter—and we end this Thanksgiving piece by awarding them a pumpkin pie-filled Glass Slipper.
Over the next two years, OSU-Cascades will begin its massive expansion from a two to four-year college, building toward a viable 5,000-student campus. But before the cement sets on those plans, they are setting up a series of "open houses" where they are inviting all community members to voice their concerns and questions. The expansion of OSU-Cascades is a big deal—it will affect the character, the geography, the transportation, the economy and the spirit of Bend.
The first meeting is scheduled for Dec. 12, 6 to 8 pm. To accommodate more schedules, a meeting about the same issues will also occur on Dec. 13 from noon to 1:30 pm. Both meetings will take place in Cascades Hall on College Way on the COCC campus. Materials for the meetings will be posted in advance at osucascades.edu/4. This first open house focuses on the campus' master plan. Meetings will be held quarterly.
This is the kind of consistent and meaningful dialogue that can bring about community-based solutions.