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Pacific Power won’t hand off Bend’s Mirror Pond Dam after all


Three years after a leak in the century-old Pacific Power hydro dam that formed Bend’s iconic Mirror Pond prompted the utility to announce it wished to divest itself of the facility to the community — prompting much debate over its fate — the utility has done a quiet about-face and plans to keep producing power there, at least for now, an official confirmed Tuesday.

“We’ve been in this place for a while now, quietly telling people” of that decision, Scott Bolton, the multi-state utility’s vice president of external affairs, told NewsChannel 21. “It just hadn’t made it in the public domain.”

The bottom line, he said; “There’s not a compelling reason to divest it.”

Word of the change in stance even surprised some public officials who have spent much time and energy on plans in recent years and in talks with the utility about how and whether to assume ownership of the dam. None who NewsChannel 21 contacted Tuesday were ready to talk about what the change in position will mean for those discussions.

There have been years of discussion about getting silt in the pond dredged, but the issues became broader in 2013 when the utility, after a leak needed $250,000 in repairs, made it known it would engage in talks with the community in a bid to divest itself of the under-3-megawatt dam.

But Bolton said the leak and repairs were just part of the reason the aging facility was headed for possible divestiture.

“How we got here is, 3 , four years ago, the person in charge of power generation was asked to look at the entire fleet of small hydro projects, to do a detailed analysis — which ones are in the money, which ones are going to take significant investments to keep going – which candidates to hold onto, which to divest.”

“The Bend Hydro Plant has always been right on the margins,” he said. “It’s not a big facility, it doesn’t produce a lot of power. But it’s been relatively reliable. It’s one of those ones that’s an ‘either-or.’ At the time, looking at an aging dam, the thinking was, maybe this was a candidate for selling off or decommissioning.”

At the same time, Bolton added, “I think the people working on the project at the time realized this was not your typical hydro project. It has a significant community impact. If we get rid of this, we want to make sure Bend has the right of first refusal, if we divest, so it’s a win-win partnership for the community.”

In those closed-door negotiations, some details of which became publicly known, Bolton said Pacific Power had been presented “at least a couple of rounds of visions” for the future of the dam, the pond and the area – one that generated much public debate which included redevelopment of the area of downtown fronting on the pond.

But in the utility’s view, he said, “There’s nothing that’s come along that been viable – has met that test of being affordable, doable for the community, while leaving Pacific Power customers whole.”

“We made that capital investment to repair the leak” in 2013, he said, and there have been none since. “It’s structurally sound, there’s no urgency to make decisions around this.”

So while the related issues, starting with silt removal, remain unresolved, “we really want to take that pressure off the table, the uncertainty” over whether Pacific Power is willing to hold onto the dam.

“Let’s hang onto it, but not foreclose conversation if a better, more viable” plan for the dam and its surroundings comes along, the utility executive said.

“As the owner, we’ll continue to engage with other stakeholders, parties, to be sure we’re mitigating our impact appropriately.”

Unlike the simpler times decades ago when a silt removal project moved along fairly quickly, “simple doesn’t seem to be an option” these days, Bolton acknowledged. “We’re going to evaluate every option, but there’s no immediate desire or need to sell the project, or do anything with it, other than to reliably operate it.”

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