If plotted out, the conversation about what to do about Mirror Pond would probably look something like a wave in the ocean—a community discussion that gathers momentum when one public official or another offers his opinion about whether to maintain the Newport Street Dam, but then quickly crests and dissipates.
In May, the conversation about whether to keep the dam—and hence the pond—or let the Deschutes River run free swelled up when a financial assessment about maintaining or removing the dam that creates Mirror Pond was released. That report seemed to answer important questions about how much the various options would cost—or, at least narrowed the scope from "unknown" to somewhere between $4 million and $20 million.
But a week or so after the release of that financial report—and its subsequent hubbub around City Hall and Park & Recreation headquarters—the conversation once again had subsided into a lull.
Until, that is, Mayor Jim Clinton made surprise comments last week, apropos seemingly of nothing, that he believes the city should take on some responsibility to pay for maintaining Mirror Pond. Previously, in December, City Council had followed the lead of the Park & Recreation District, and publicly provided its support to maintain Mirror Pond, but seemingly with the caveat that the city would not take on fiscal responsibility for that option.
Yet, in an article in Wednesday's Bulletin, the mayor seemed to explain that the city should offer to provide financial support to preserve the dam. Several requests for an interview by the Source were not returned* from Mayor Clinton. His comments standing alone in the Bulletin article were somewhat unexpected, though, and again raise the question about who will take leadership over the issue and, moreover, who will pay for keeping or removing the dam—questions that, in spite of many opinions offered over several years, continue to eddy out and have barely inched forward.
In his comments to the Bulletin, Clinton added, "We can't be irresponsible as a city and say Mirror Pond, we as a city want it to stay there, but we aren't willing to do anything to make it stay there." Clinton also strangely added, "It is not a wild and scenic river that has salmon runs that Indians treasure."
In response to Mayor Clinton's comments, City Manager Eric King told the Source that "(the decision for the City of Bend to help to pay for the dam) hasn't been fully vetted with council yet." (King also said that his comment in the Bulletin that he was taken by surprise by Clinton's new position "may have been taken a bit out of context.")
But, King did offer that, "If we've made a statement that we want a pond, it is not taboo to discuss who's going to own the dam."
That question of ownership of the dam—and the many millions necessary to maintain it—continues to linger. Over the past year, it has emerged that Pacific Power, which currently owns the dam, has no interest in continued ownership or maintenance, which means that to keep the dam—and keep the pond—either the City or Park & Rec needs to step in.
If anything, the vague consensus has been that if a municipality does take ownership, it will more likely be Park & Rec, as opposed to the City of Bend. Toward that idea, City Manager King points out that as part of the December resolution expressing the city's support to maintain Mirror Pond, any reference to the City of Bend taking ownership for the dam was purposefully removed, and King re-emphasized that there was no intention for the City of Bend to "aggressively" pursue an option to own the dam.
"(The city is) not looking to take any more responsibility to operate the dam," confirmed King. He did add, "Anyone on council is free to speak, and Jim (Clinton) did."
More so, at the base of the question over potential ownership is which entity can put its money where its mouth is. In Clinton's remarks in the Bulletin was the suggestion that with housing prices improving, city tax coffers are filling back up—and that general funds could be used to maintain the dam.
But, in spite of Mayor Clinton's assessment, that question about dedicating millions of taxpayer dollars to an aging dam has a long way to go before residents—and fellow council members—agree that maintaining a sentimental feature of the city is a financial priority.
"It is difficult to say that we want to participate for X-number of dollars," pointed out Mark Capell, who sits on City Council and also serves as a member of the Mirror Pond Ad Hoc Committee. "The city doesn't have much extra money laying around," he added. "If we did, there would be more road maintenance, police, fire." In May, for example, voters in Bend were asked to—and did—pass a property levy to help provide funds for the fire department to replace aging equipment.
Instead of deciding the City or Park & Rec's exact position, Capell said that the next step in the ongoing process is actually to determine Pacific Power's next move; like negotiating for a used car on Craig's List, Pacific Power has been somewhat cagey in its offers and availability for figuring out the dam's subsequent ownership.
The next meeting between the ad hoc committee and Pacific Power representatives is not yet scheduled, but Capell hopes it will happen in the next several weeks. As far as the larger time frame for making a decision about ownership of the dam—and whether to maintain Mirror Pond—he added that "this is not going to be a quick fix; not this summer."
"Regardless of whether it remains a pond or becomes a river, I want to come up with a long-term fix," said Capell. "I don't want to have this conversation 25 years from now."
He added, "I wish it was going faster."*NOTE: Mayor Jim Clinton replied via email after the Source went to press. His comments are below: "...Mirror Pond as an issue is suffering fatigue with so many talking about it for so long and nothing happening. There is not, and probably cannot be, a plan that backed by widespread support. Those wanting Mirror Pond to stay as it is and those wanting a free-flowing river are irreconcilably far apart. Also, Pacific Power has just fixed the dam and appears in no hurry to do anything different. Any option requires an amount of money that nobody has offered to supply," Clinton wrote. He added, "Therefore, really not much to talk about. The Bulletin made a story where there wasn't one by using headlines and sub-heads that didn't reflect my quotes."