Originally published Dec. 22, 2018 in The Bend Bulletin
Guest column: Mirror Pond: Time for a public vote
Some people believe that dredging Mirror Pond is necessary, fearing if we don’t dredge the pond, it will mysteriously disappear. Not true.
Now we are being urged to publicly fund dredging at a cost of more than $6 million dollars, and to do this on a fast track. Wow!
How did we get here?
After robust public debate through 2013-2015, no Mirror Pond option had broad public support. Then Mirror Pond Solutions (MPS) acquired title to the lands under the pond and public processes moved into private meetings. Open public debate has only recently re-emerged.
In recent meetings of the committee on Mirror Pond Funding Strategies, the MPS proposal has been for the city to finance dredging through a franchise fee on PacifiCorp customers.
MPS referred to multiple options that were evaluated for possible public funding. Where was public involvement?
Putting aside for now that a franchise fee is a hidden regressive tax, where was public input on the basic concept that the public should fund dredging at all?
It is understandable that many are frustrated by discussions and studies spanning years.
But it seems clear that actions were previously deferred because proposed solutions were flawed and inadequate.
A major deficiency has been the failure to address the alternative to dredging if the dam is maintained: managing the pond for natural successional evolution.
Consider first the Old Mill log pond above Colorado established by a dam built in 1915. What has happened over the subsequent 103 years?
Google Earth photos of July 27 will show you small wetlands just above the dam and small areas of riparian vegetation above that. This is a healthy river requiring minimal maintenance. The photos show large numbers of inner tubers floating here in bliss.
Is this not a window into a future Mirror Pond?
If we allow Mirror Pond to evolve as the Old Mill log pond has, what could we expect?
Some areas will evolve into wetlands. River hydrology will create other stable shallow areas and stable primary flow channels.
Successional evolution will result in a stable pond, with enhanced water quality as well as wildlife habitat.
Mirror Pond will not become a muddy mess; shallows will be vegetated with wetland and riparian growths.
That beneficial evolution will happen more quickly if judicious plantings are made. Google Earth photos dating to 2000 provide further insight.
Since 2000, we have stable shallow areas of the river and a defined primary channel. The “iconic” pond view appears to be stable over the last 18 years.
Mirror Pond is approaching a natural stable state 33 years after the last dredging in 1984.
What then is the benefit from, or urgency associated with, dredging now?
We are not at imminent risk of losing the “iconic” pond. Natural succession will produce a pond view of blue water, although it will not match historic views.
The new pond views may well be preferred by many to the historic view.
This natural successional option offers ecologic benefits above dredging but also huge economic benefits: minimal maintenance costs in contrast to the proposed $6.7 million dollar estimate for the proposed dredging, a cost estimated to recur in 25 years.
But beyond this debate over river issues, how do residents of Bend prioritize this investment compared to the alternatives of investing in road maintenance, affordable housing, infrastructure updates, growth planning, regional education programs and others?
Private landowners may have the right to proceed with dredging, but why then should residents of Bend finance that private endeavor?
If City Council wants to build community participation and consensus, as voiced in recent campaigns, the next step should be a public referendum.
—Michael Tripp lives in Bend.