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Top Local News Stories of the Year 


1. Mirror Pond

This year, the Mirror Pond debate continued to ebb and flow. In March, Bend City Council narrowly voted to support the ad hoc committee's "preferred alternative"—a hybrid plan that would have maintained the pond while removing the failing Newport Dam. By July, that committee was reportedly preparing to make an offer to purchase the dam from PacifiCorps, despite the failure of local lawmakers to pass a bill seeking $5 million in Oregon Lottery funds for the project. Come October, the ambitious redevelopment plan was shelved in favor of more incremental fixes. Meanwhile, local activist Foster Fell—who advocates for a free-flowing river—began collecting signatures to put the future of Mirror Pond on the ballot. Ultimately, the conversation made little progress.

In other words: "[Mirror Pond] may be the most complicated public process undertaken in Bend in our generation," said Jayson Bowerman, who was active in the development of the Colorado Dam White Water Project.

2. Troy Field

Just a few blocks to the east, Foster Fell was involved in another debate over the future of a community icon. Only this time, he was fighting to preserve Troy Field, a 0.8 acre patch of grass in downtown Bend owned by Bend-La Pine Schools. A persistent group of neighbors and other community members are fighting to prevent the property's sale to an unidentified developer who is planning to erect hotel condos on the site that has served as a community ice rink, sports field, and event space. Opponents hope to dissuade the City from removing the property's public facilities designation, and effectively block the sale. The likelihood of losing that green space has reignited questions about the City's dormant Heritage Square concept, which would create a town square across from City Hall.

In other words: "I've seen good cities and I've seen great cities," said former lobbyist and developer Marilyn Coffel at a public hearing about Troy Field, "but I've never seen a great small city without a public plaza."

3. The Housing Crisis

Bend came into 2015 knowing it had a problem. The phrase "housing crisis" was no longer a hyperbolic headline, but rather a literal description of current conditions in the housing and rental markets. And the City took action, approving a number of "efficiency measures" such as revised codes that incentivizes or better accommodates accessory dwelling units, cottage communities, and higher density developments. The City also moved forward with system development charge exemptions for affordable housing projects, and disbursed affordable housing fee proceeds to local affordable housing-related projects. But the crisis persisted. Local shelters were often full and concerns were raised with Deschutes County about homeless camps on county land. And in December, Shepherd's House announced the opening of its new shelter for women on Bend's east side.

"There's no silver bullet. I wish there was."

—Kirk Schueler, incoming CEO of Brooks Resources

4. Growth

According to the popular aphorism, attributed to former Metro Executive Mike Burton, "Oregonians hate two things: Density and sprawl." And that certainly seems to be the case in Bend, where the City's effort to draw up a new urban growth boundary that meets the State's approval has struggled to balance those two concerns. And that process made considerable strides this year, with City Council identifying a preferred expansion scenario. The proposed boundary adds much less land to the city limits than the City's first draft did, and emphasizes eastside development over westside.

But regardless of the exact shape and size of Bend's future footprint, there's little doubt that the city will continue to attract new visitors and residents alike. And that makes people anxious. A sizable portion of letters submitted to the Source grapples with the impacts of this continued growth. And it contributes to the strain on our neglected infrastructure.

This awareness has prompted some action, including the much-needed expansion of hours and services from Cascades East Transit and the pursuit of a gas tax to help fund street repairs.

In other words: "Parts of Bend will start to look more like a real city. Some people will like this, particularly people who desire an urban environment or who don't like sprawl. Other people won't, because they moved here for the elbowroom they did not have in Seattle or California, or they desire the bucolic Bend of their youth." —City Councilor Victor Chudowsky

5. Conservation

This was the year of the sage-grouse. While we wrote no small number of environmental stories in 2015—including coverage of the Oregon spotted frog, mule deer, salmon, cougars, wild horses, climate change, the drought, wildfire, and Pilot Butte—it was that funny looking bird that kept re-emerging (nearly one-third of the year's issues contained some mention of the sage-grouse).

This year, the bird saw diverse interests, from conservation groups to ranchers, some together to draft a plan to avoid listing the sage-grouse as an endangered species. The hope is that this mutually agreed upon measure will accomplish the intended objective of such a listing, without the federal oversight. While not everyone believes the agreement is the best plan, it holds hope for a new approach to conservation in the future that relies more on cooperation than conflict.

In other words: "They have a habitat that supports the viability of about 300 other species. Sage-grouse is a fantastic indication of how that ecosystem is doing." —Dan Morse, Conservation Director at the Oregon Natural Desert Association

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