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Bend park board to fight legislation that could block footbridge

Whisnant urges public to testify at Senate hearing

Bend Park and Rec discusses footbridge

BEND, Ore. - (Update: Park district statement about eminent domain powers, use)

The Bend Park and Recreation Board discussed the future of a proposed footbridge over the Deschutes River Tuesday evening and vowed to press on, despite a recent setback in the Oregon Legislature.

The Oregon House unanimously decided to block construction of the bridge last week. It would connect Deschutes River Woods east of the river to the Deschutes River Trail near the Good Dog Trail area to the west. 

"It's been a plan for a long time to make that connection, and it's really important to allow people to access recreation close to home, as well as providing access to the national forest for the people on the east side of the river, as well as the people on the west side of the river," said Michelle Healy, the district's planning and parks services director. 

A bill brought forward by Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, would block construction because the area is designated as a state scenic waterway.

At Tuesday night's meeting, the park district's lawyer, Neil Bryant, said the introduction of the bill was fast and didn't allow for public input. This bridge is complex, because it has both federal and state wild and scenic waterway regulations in place, meaning if the bridge does happen, it would face even more review and consideration. 

Board members said they want to be transparent about their process with the bridge and did discuss the possibility of seeking an amendment to the current legislation, but decided against it. 

"State Parks have been going through a process to look at the rules on the scenic waterway which is designated on that stretch of the Deschutes River," Healy said. "That really started a conversation with the community more actively about that stretch."

Healy said residents have raised some concerns about vegetation and wildlife along that stretch of the river. 

"We had about five different alternatives we have looked at, and I think that is part of the confusion," Healy said. "People didn't really understand the conceptual location we were working from."

The board eventually decided to fight the legislation in the Senate, adopt a map of the proposed bridge, and focus on receiving more public input about the pros and cons of the span.

Thee Oregon Senate will hold a public hearing in Salem on May 10 regarding the bill and the future of the bridge and legislation.

Whisnant issued this news release Tuesday, urging residents to weigh in, whether or not they can travel to Salem for the hearing.

Salem, Ore. - In response to a significant amount of feedback from Oregonians in and around Deschutes County, Representative Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver) is urging residents to voice their opinions on legislation related to the Deschutes River Trail Bridge at an upcoming public hearing in the State Senate.

“I have received a number of phone calls and emails from Oregonians on both sides of this issue,” said Rep. Whisnant. “As this conversation continues in the Senate, I want to make sure that Oregonians know they have a right to make their opinions known in a public forum. I encourage anyone who has strong feeling about the Deschutes River Trail Bridge to attend the public hearing next week or to submit written testimony online.”

Oregonians interested in testifying on HB 2027 should plan to attend the May 10 meeting of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Those who are unable to testify in person may still submit written testimony by submitting comments to senr.exhibits@oregonlegislature.gov. For more information, please visit the following link: How To Testify.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

WHAT:              Public hearing on HB 2027

            Legislation related to Deschutes River Trail Bridge

WHEN:             3:00 p.m.

WHERE:           Oregon State Capitol

                        900 Court St. NE

                        Hearing Room C

In his weekly legislative update, also sent out Tuesday, Whisnant wrote, "We have received a great deal of emails both supporting and opposing HB 2027 relating to bridges over the Deschutes River, a scenic waterway.

"I was asked to sponsor this bill by constituents and I agreed to do just that -- not to prevent a trail,” Whisnant wrote. “I was concerned that the proposal to build a bridge over a specific portion of the Deschutes River would undermine scenic waterway protections in favor of a more direct route for a pedestrian trail.

"I also learned that ‘eminent domain’ may be used to make this happen," Whisnant said, referring to a government method to acquire private property for public use, with compensation.

Asked about Whisnant’s comment, park district spokeswoman Julie Brown provided this response:

“Like many special districts and government agencies in Oregon and elsewhere, BPRD has the legal authority to use the power of Eminent Domain (aka, condemnation).  However, the District’s preference is, and has always been to negotiate property acquisitions in good faith, and to date has never exercised the use of condemnation.  

“There is clearly misinformation about our intentions on this project.  Only the Board can authorize condemnation proceedings and there has been no direction from them to use Eminent Domain for any segment of the Deschutes River Trail.

 “In this particular South UGB location, the bridge site recently endorsed by the Board is located wholly on federal land just south of the UGB and we also have a signed Letter of Intent (LOI) with the primary landowner, Stosh Thompson to negotiate for the trail right-of-way we’d need on his property to connect with bridge location.  This is a trail alignment now endorsed by the Board as well, and one that he himself proposed and continues to support.

“The only time that the District has considered using Eminent Domain was to aid in completing the Larkspur Trail when there was one lone property owner unwilling to negotiate.  The City of Bend filed for condemnation on behalf of BPRD and then we negotiated with the landowner and came to an agreement before it went to condemnation court. “


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