Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beware Bend of another potential land scam

How did the problem with Pacific Power's small, failing hydro dam in the heart of Bend become a catalyst for a massive redevelopment at public expense?

Well, Mirror Pond is formed by that hydro facility, which is about 100 years old. Naturally, if you dam up the Deschutes River, it will create sediment leading to mudflats, which we've had for a few decades now.

Mirror Pond needs to be dredged again and it will cost millions that the city or park district does not have.

Pacific Power wants the city or park district to take over the dam and all the associated costs that go with decommissioning the hydro facility, which could be more than $10 million. No wonder they want to get rid of it.

For a century now, Pacific Power has made money from the electricity it sold from the Mirror Pond dam. Yet, it does not want to help pay for dredging of the pond or for decommissioning the dam.
Such a "responsible" corporate citizen.

Mirror Pond, and Drake Park that borders it, is one of the most scenic sites in Oregon.

Of course, almost a 100 years ago, a developer wanted to build homes along the river, but a group of Bend women gathered enough signatures to place a bond measure on the ballot that passed easily in 1920. The city then bought the land from the developer for $21,000 and Drake Park was created.

Drake Park and Mirror Pond are so picturesque that the city uses the view of them for its logo. In essence, the value to the city is incalculable.

Anyway, developers today are itching to build along the river once again.

Kirk Schueler, now a consultant, is pushing a public-private partnership to redevelop the area around the hydro facility and substation.

In 2013, Schueler was a high-ranking official at St. Charles Medical Center at the same time he was on the state board of higher education. Conveniently, the board approved the purchase of a 10-acre parcel, owned by doctors, for OSU-Cascades. Yes, Schueler did not vote to approve the acquisition, but still the state paid 22 percent more than it was assessed at. The land, adjacent to former industrial sites including a pumice pit and demolition landfill, was purchased for $2 million in 2002 and sold to OSU-Cascades for nearly $5 million.

It was a land scam, pure and simple.

The park district wants to sell its former headquarters at Pacific Park along the river north of the dam so that it can create a newer park, closer to downtown, where the Pacific Power substation now sits.

All well and good, but how much will the park district get for its riverfront land and will it be enough to pay for other improvements to the area? Or will the park district get screwed over like the state did in the OSU-Cascades fiasco?

To its credit, the park district knows that a variety of funding sources are needed for their master plan to work and are not rushing the process without due diligence.

There is no great urgency.

If Bend's citizens had a say, which they don't, they would more than likely prefer the river run its natural course through Bend with no dam. This would eliminate the need for future costly dredgings.

At some point, Pacific Power is going to have to do something with its dilapidated hydro facility and substation.

Let that deep-pocketed corporation pay what it should pay to clean up its own mess.

And don't let developers run this process. Since they would make a killing developing the land along the river, they should pay the lion's share of this makeover that guarantees public access to the riverfront.

It would be a travesty if Bend lost an opportunity to enhance its downtown core by enriching a handful of people at taxpayers' expense.

1 comment:

  1. Xray,
    To answer your initial question. It will be developed at public expense if Emperor Horton continues to extort 10% of property taxes in addition to fees from new construction. BPRD has done some quality work for Bend since voters established its tax base in 1976 but I doubt the voters could picture the extent of Bend's growth over the next forty years. BPRD is like any government bureaucracy, it tends to grow in power and it must spend all of its budget or eventually whoever provides the funds will start to see other uses for the extra. BPRD grows increasingly grandiose in its planning and is not really accountable to the taxpayers. It spends all it has and comes to us to pass fuzzy bond issues to fill the gaps. I realize only the voters can alter the way BPRD is funded but the City has other needs, some of which are serious and ultimately unavoidable. It is time for BPRD to join the real economic world occupied by the rest of us and should be placed on a more realistic funding footing.