BEND, Ore. - A bill that could slow if not block a proposed proposed footbridge over a state-designated scenic stretch of the Deschutes River won unanimous passage from the Oregon House on Wednesday.
Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, introduced House Bill 2027, would would prohibit any public body, person or local service district from construction a bridge on a stretch of the Deschutes south (upstream) of Bend’s urban growth boundary, in segments designated as a scenic waterway.
More than a year ago, the State Parks and Recreation Commission rejected a Bend Park and Rec request to change parts of a rule for the Upper Deschutes State Scenic Waterway for the new footbridge. Instead, the agency convened a group to study more thoroughly the need for any rule updates and a broad look at how the river near Bend has changed since the state scenic designation in 1988.
The park district asked the state in 2015 to amend a ban on river crossings for about 3 1/2 miles of river upstream (south of) Bend, so a bicycle-pedestrian bridge could be built to help complete the Deschutes River Trail, a long-sought goal of the park district.
Whisnant has said the measure is aimed at providing enforcement of the state's existing bridge ban that the current state rules were found to lack. But he also noted that the prohibition in the bill could be overturned by voters, legislators or the governor and state parks agency, all involving a public process.
The park district has lobbied against Whisnant's measure and will do so again in the Senate.
The unanimous House approval on a 54-0 vote was applauded by a group opposed to the new span, called Protect Our River, which called it “another step forward in environmental protection, uniting conservationists and homeowners in Central Oregon.”
But they also said its clear the fight will continue in the Senate.
“We expect BPRD will still not get the message and continue to advance their agenda over long-standing environmental protections,” said Tim Phillips, a member of the Upper Deschutes Conservation Council.
Bridge foes say the area contains critical habitat for the threatened Oregon spotted frog and was identified by ODFW as vital wintering habitat for elk and deer.