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Pacific Power stonewalls Mirror Pond team

The mood was tense during Monday's Mirror Pond Management Board meeting as its gathered members, one after another, put Pacific Power representative Angela Price on the spot.

The meeting was originally arranged so that project manager Jim Figurski could share the findings from the latest community survey. But what followed could only be described as a standoff between Pacific Power and the various members of the management board, all of whom wanted to know one thing: When is the dam coming out?

"I need to know about the dam," said City Councilor Mark Capell. 

"It's time to turn our attention toward this fundamental question," echoed Ryan Houston, Upper Deschutes Watershed Council executive director. "If we don't go there, it's really hard to know what we're looking at."

"All of these acts depend on Pacific Power," added David Rosell, a Bend Chamber of Commerce representative who was referring to the proposed options for a pond on the Deschutes River that's fast filling with silt.

But Price, speaking on behalf of Pacific Power, the owner of the 100-year-old Newport Avenue Dam, refused to reveal the utility's intentions. "We don't have a date," Price said, stonewalling her peers. She then proceeded to flip every question back on the board. "If something rises to be the preferred alternative, we will support that."

"Forget which way we choose," answered Todd Heisler, Deschutes River Conservancy executive director.

And therein lies the impasse. Pacific Power stubbornly maintains that first it needs to hear a clear directive from the community before deciding how to proceed with the antiquated dam. But the management board says it needs Pacific Power to make the call before plans are made and millions are invested.

For what it's worth, the community has spoken. Figurski said that of the 1,224 citizens (most were longtime Bend residents) who took the recent survey regarding the proposed options for Mirror Pond, 47 percent favor removing the dam, as compared with 43 percent who want the dam to stay.

Both survey respondents and Mirror Pond Management Board members have made it clear that whatever the fix—whether it's a return to a river or continued pond maintenance—the solution should preserve iconic views, improve water and habitat quality and, as Downtown Bend Business Association representative Chuck Arnold made clear, improve opportunities for river play.

"Recreation is sorely left off," Arnold stated.

But all plans may remain on hold until Pacific Power decides to show its hand, or stand down completely. The next stage of the project is to identify a preferred option and funding mechanism, but even that will prove difficult without better information from the utility that owns the dam. The biggest message relayed in the recent survey is that residents want some sort of action taken.

When Figurski presented the survey findings to city council one day later, the same questions arose: "What can you tell us about the dam?" What the ultimate fix will be and who (or which governing body) will make that call remains unknown.

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