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Tumalo Irrigation District joins Mirror Pond saga


A Bend city councilor called Tumalo Irrigation District’s apparent surprise expression of interest to purchase the Pacific Power dam a “fantastic idea,” while the director of Bend Park and Rec initially called the news “frustrating” at a Mirror Pond committee meeting Thursday.

Tumalo Irrigation District Manager Ken Rieck told NewsChannel 21 the idea is preliminary, but the district is exploring the possibility of acquiring the dam for its own generation of hydropower, as well as to decommission another small dam downstream and extend its canal piping farther upstream.

“What we would do is take over the existing Pacific Power dam and put new, efficient, more modern equipment in there — and then add kayak and fish and wildlife passage through there” Rieck said.

The news comes weeks after both the city council and Bend Park and Rec passed a proposal to remove the dam, put in a new water impoundment and redevelop the downtown riverfront area.

For years, community leaders have wrestled with how to deal with the pond’s silt-filled waters behind the aging dam. Meanwhile, recent leaks in the century-old dam have led Pacific Power to publicly declare it no longer has interest in using the dam for power.

While previous Mirror Pond meetings have drawn a crowd of dozens, only five or so Bend residents attended Thursday’s meeting, where City Councilor Victor Chudowsky called the Tumalo Irrigation proposal a “fantastic idea,” if details can be worked out.

Bend Park and Rec Executive Director Don Horton said he hadn’t looked at the TID proposal or heard much about it — something he called “frustrating,” after all the work the group has done to negotiate the purchase of the dam from PacifiCorp.

But later on, he said if the proposal were to work out, it could be beneficial for everyone.

“I think there’s still a lot to learn what the proposal is,” Horton said. “But I think if it can take out one of the dams in the river, take care of some of the Tumalo Creek water flows and find an owner for the dam, then I think the net benefit to this project is great for this community.”

Rieck said Tumalo Irrigation’s interest in the dam is twofold: generating revenue from hydropower and reducing the amount of water it takes out of Tumalo Creek.

“Basically, we would swap Deschutes River water for Tumalo Creek water,” Rieck said. “So it restores water in the most de-watered reach on the creek.”

Rieck said he’s had some discussions about the idea with the city but has not had a chance to talk with Bend Park and Rec.

He said if the math pencils out, it would take the district 20 years to pay off $10 million needed to take over and improve the dam. He said he doesn’t know how much it would cost to take out the small Steidl Dam, located near Pioneer Park.

PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely told NewsChannel 21 in a statement that the power company has not discussed the proposal with Tumalo Irrigation, but is open to the idea. Here’s that statement:

“It remains our desire to find a way to transfer the dam to a local entity as the best way for the community to realize its vision for the future of Mirror Pond, while at the same time balancing our obligation to the other communities in Oregon and elsewhere where we provide service. While we’ve had no discussions about this particular concept, we would be willing to discuss it with community leaders and the Tumalo Irrigation District to learn more.”

While the vision for Mirror Pond’s future keeps shifting, an effort to fund whatever happens with the pond is gaining steam in Salem.

State Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, said his bill to direct $5 million in Oregon Lottery funds to the Mirror Pond project recently moved up to the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.

And Buehler said Tumalo Irrigation’s proposal will only help.

“With Tumalo Irrigation now involved in the project, it provides a lot more extra teeth with regards to the water impoundment and management of the dam,” Buehler said. “It also increases the positive environmental impact.”

“There’s a real possibility if this all comes together, that we could have over six miles of habitat improvement on the Deschutes River, right in the middle of Bend.”

Buehler said the funds from the lottery, if awarded, likely would go to the redevelopment of the Mirror Pond parking lots into businesses and housing — but probably would not be used to deal with the pond itself.

“It’s a win all the way around,” Buehler said of the plan to transform Mirror Pond and the downtown area. “It’s a win for the environment, it’s a win for the community and it’s a win for important economic development.”

Members of the Mirror Pond Ad Hoc Committee also discussed the need to develop phases for the massive project and consider moving forward with an initial phase sooner rather than later.

“The first phase very well could be Mirror Pond,” Horton said. “Go ahead and take care of the sediment issue, do the realignment of the banks along Drake Park and create the riparian habitat that we need.”

Horton acknowledged that future funding from the mixed-use development probably would not be available during the first phase.

“Part of the charge of this committee is to figure out where the funding is going to come from, but I think it’s going to come from multiple sources,” he said. “You know, pieces of it will come from the city, some of it will come from the park district, hopefully Knute Buehler’s bill.”

“This has been a complicated project from the beginning, and if it takes longer for negotiations or to find a plan that really works for this community, that time will be well spent.”

Horton said the land under the pond has been purchased by Bill Smith and Todd Taylor with Mirror Pond LCC, who intend to sell the land to the entity preserving the pond for the same price they bought it.

City and park officials hope to meet with Tumalo Irrigation representatives next week to learn more about its proposal.

The Mirror Pond committee plans to hold a brainstorming session to talk about phasing the project and developments with Tumalo Irrigation in mid-May. The group said it plans to invite members of the business and environmental community to that meeting.

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