Like the Deschutes River itself, it would appear that nothing to do with the decision about whether to keep the Newport Avenue Dam—the structure that creates Mirror Pond—is ever straightforward. For the past several years, it has been a tug-of-war with sentimental emotions to keep the iconic pond, and environmental considerations to blow the dam and let the river run free. In the middle—or, at least potentially tipping the scales of consideration (sorry to mix metaphors)—was the economic consideration. How much would it cost to retain the pond—or, more precisely, to keep the Newport Avenue Dam in functioning order to maintain a pond? To answer those lingering questions, Bend's Park & Rec District—the entity most likely to manage whatever decision is made—hired engineers from Arizona (apparently none were available from the Pacific Northwest) to pinch, poke and otherwise determine how much it would cost to keep the dam—and how best to do so.
That report was finally released last week—and, surprise, it moves forward the conversation, but seemingly only to yet another twist in the storyline. The report predicted (no real spoiler here) that the dam will eventually fail. The report went much further, providing a range of options, ranging from reinforcing the leaking dam with steel plates, at a cost around $2 million, to completely replace the dam with a brand spanking new concrete one—most likely the most viable option if public opinion or the Park District determine that retaining Mirror Pond is a priority; that option would cost upwards to $3.7 million.
The report is the first clear indication about how much each proposed option would cost. As many numbers and dollar signs have been floated as inner-tubers on a warm summer day. Reportedly, several months ago Pacific Power had offered to hand over the dam to the City of Bend, with allegedly $1 million as well, to rid itself of the dam—and, if that gave an indication, it was that the dam is worth less to own than it is worthwhile.
At a City Club presentation, the bill of $7 million was mentioned offhandedly as an amount to fix up and maintain the dam—and, hence, the pond—while others have joked that for a few hundred dollars worth of dynamite the whole matter of a crumbling dam could be quickly resolved.
Last week's report brings these price estimates into a much more realistic spectrum, and dims the hopes for some of the options.
"The report is pretty clear that minor maintenance won't be sustainable over the long-term," explained Ryan Houston, Executive Director of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council. He continued, "I think where this (report) helps is that it gives us some real numbers, so that we can talk about what option X costs and who is going to pay—and who is willing to pay for it."
"If it's just an economic decision," Houston further articulated, "I think taking the dam out is probably the least expensive thing to do over time." He hastened to add, "It's not just an economic issue, it taps into a lot of strong feelings about the pond and the river."
"There's a lot yet to be sorted out about what outcome people value and how they want to assign their dollars to that outcome," he concluded.
The Mirror Pond Ad Hoc Committee is scheduled to meet at 1–3 pm,, Wed., May 21, at Bend Park and Rec Headquarters, 799 SW Columbia.