Spencer Dahl, a longtime Bend resident, may like the meandering current of the Deschutes River, but he is not sitting idly by letting the debate over what to do about the river, Newport Avenue Dam and Mirror Pond just take its sweet time. He is out there trying to actually guide the conversation and make sure that whatever decisions are made are reasonable and in the best interest of Bend.
On Monday, Dahl talked with the Source at Crows Feet Commons, sitting in the bike-and-coffeeshop, with Mirror Pond in the nearby background. In recent weeks, Dahl has been filling out paperwork for a voter initiative that would prohibit the City of Bend and Bend Park & Recreation from taking control of the Newport Avenue dam without first acquiring either "water rights" or a federal permit to operate the dam as a power generator, as the current owner Pacific Power does.
"This is about focusing the issue on accountability," explains the genial Dahl.
Although the bulk of the debate over Mirror Pond has focused on sentimental debates whether what Dahl calls a "water feature" is integral to Bend's identity, and environmental issues about dredging and proper fish passage, the actual decisions necessary are much more sophisticated—like decisions about acquiring federal permits and allowances.
Specifically, explains Dahl, although the Newport Avenue dam creates Mirror Pond by shoring up the Deschutes River, the dam can only legally continue to exist if one of two options is secured: Either, one, the dam functions as a hydroelectric generator or, two, "water rights" are obtained by the City or Park & Rec to maintain the pond.
"There is no 'right' to store water," he points out. "(The pond) is a side effect of power generation; if that (the power generation) goes away, the pond has to go away."
Or, the City or Park & Rec could apply for "water rights," a public process through the state. Yet, applying for water rights can take years, and so far, there is no report that anyone at the City or Park & Rec has done so.
Dahl says that his primary interest is to make sure that either the City or Park & Rec—who he actually believes is the correct municipal body to take over the project—has their "ducks in a row." He adds, "I want to really focus the attention on the water rights or the power rights, before anyone ends up with the liability of having to remove the dam." Like making certain that a car can pass DEQ standards before purchasing it, or assuring that an easement will transfer with a housing sale, Dahl believes that obtaining these rights should be a precursor to purchasing or taking ownership of the dam. The alternative is that the City or Park & Rec may be saddled with removing the dam if those rights cannot be obtained. "Whereas now it is the power company's responsibility."
Oh sure, you could say Dahl is being a busybody, sticking his nose into the City Council and Park & Rec decision-making process. But we applaud this type of citizen activism, and give him our Glass Slipper for his role as a watchdog and working to create accountability—accountability that, ultimately, is trying to help steer whatever decision is made toward one based on law and not overly ripe sentiments.
On Wednesday, after press time, Dahl said he planned to speak with City Council during the public comment section to see whether his initiative is necessary, or if City Council will agree to pursue these options on its own volition.