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The Boot 10/14-10/21 

A River Should Run Through It

Mirror Pond is neither a mirror nor properly a pond, and yet it has gained both fame and infamy—and a protracted political process aimed at preserving it. As with most hot topics, there are passionate people on both sides of the issue. But the time has come to move beyond sentimentality and focus on facts.

The plan to "save" Mirror Pond by creating a public-private partnership involving the redevelopment of downtown was always a tall order with a shaky foundation. That it has finally been shelved (even if temporarily) by the Bend Park and Recreation District after years of discussion and process is evidence of that.

Because the solution to the silt build-up and failing dam has had so many twists and turns over the years, it may be tempting to consider this just another speed bump. The Park District says it wants to stop treading water and take more immediate and incremental action to address the ongoing deterioration of the popular photo backdrop. But now is the time to blow open the conversation, if not the dam itself.

Local activist Foster Fell is mounting an effort to get a ballot measure addressing the future of Mirror Pond, and the dam that holds back the Deschutes River, on the November ballot. While Fell's indefatigable spirit for pursuing what frequently turns out to be a lost cause can make it easy to write off the effort, this time is different.

While we commend the Park District for attempting to create a public process and proposing solutions that sought to bring together opposing camps—the Save Mirror Pond people and the Free the River folks—it's time for a different strategy.

We have long advocated for a science-based approach to determining the future of the stretch of the Deschutes River that flows through town. In our minds, removing the dam and letting the river run free is the only environmentally and economically sound solution. But we understand that there needs to be strong community support for whatever approach the players at the table—Bend Parks, the City, and PacifiCorp—decide to take.

That's why we support Fell's effort to put Mirror Pond on the ballot. While we are always hesitant to hamstring elected officials, in this case the political pressure surrounding the issue has created a stagnant process. Foster's measure, if it were to pass, would create a mandate for the Parks District to support a free-flowing river and prevent it from getting into the dam business.

The Bulletin has suggested that such a measure is somehow premature, that we ought to wait for more information. But the public has waited long enough. Perhaps the pressure to win over voters will better motivate those on all sides of the issue to pony up the scientific and economic analysis supporting their claims and get this effort back into the sunshine of public opinion where it clearly belongs.

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