BEND, Ore. - Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Director Lisa Sumption announced Wednesday she has decided not to pursue rule amendments on the Upper Deschutes State Scenic Waterway, after a review triggered by the Bend Park and Recreation District's proposal to build a footbridge in the area.
The agency said Sumption made her decision after studying a report summarizing input from an advisory group that reviewed current regulations and comments collected through public meetings and web surveys.
The report and other documents related to the review are online at http://bit.ly/upperdeschutesreview .
Aided by a local nonprofit facilitator, Community Solutions of Central Oregon, department staff convened an advisory group and gathered input from the general public to complete a limited review of all rules affecting the 1-mile section of the Scenic Waterway within Bend's southern urban growth boundary.
The agency undertook the broader review when it rejected a BPRD request for approval to build a pedestrian and bicycle bridge connecting Bend's Eastside to trails in the Deschutes National Forest west of the River.
That review focused on the perceived effectiveness of current rules intended to protect fish, wildlife, cultural resources, recreation, and other river values.
Scenic Waterway rules cover not just bridges and crossings, but vegetation management, the visibility of structures and recreation facilities, the placement of commercial services, as well as other protections intended to preserve river values.
Community Solutions of Central Oregon summarized comments from the advisory group, three open house public meetings, and more than 300 online comments to produce the report, submitted last Friday. Officials said it emphasized several main issues:
+ Demand for recreational opportunities is increasing, putting pressure on natural resources and raising concerns among property owners adjacent to major recreation corridors.
+ Fish, wildlife, recreation, scenic, and other waterway values may receive variable levels of protection by current scenic waterway rules.
+ Continued development pressure means more coordination and cooperation are needed between public agencies, residents, and recreation enthusiasts.
+ The balance between recreation, resource protection, and property rights is strained.
"Based on the report, Director Sumption concluded that, while increased coordination with public, private, and other governmental organizations could improve rule effectiveness, she found no reason to pursue a rule amendment specific to the Upper Deschutes," the announcement said.
"I would reconsider amending rules in the future, if that would clearly strengthen protection of the waterway," Sumption said. "As important as recreation is to our mission, it has to be balanced with our need to protect resources that make recreation possible. Changing rules, especially in a way that might encourage more visible riverside development, is contrary to the purpose of the scenic waterway system."
Instead, Sumption directed department staff to work with other statewide agencies on ideas to strengthen criteria and standards for protecting resources, especially fish and wildlife, on current and future waterways as part of a broader effort to fulfill the intent of the original 1970 State Scenic Waterway law.
"There is no clear way to gauge how successfully the State Scenic Waterway Program protects our most scenic rivers and lakes,"Sumption added, "While we've finished looking at this one small portion of the Upper Deschutes and plan no further action there, the review has highlighted an important statewide need for better management of the system."
Landowners along State Scenic Waterways are asked to follow basic rules intended to preserve riparian habitat and mitigate the intrusion of new development on the public's recreational experience of the river.
Oregon Parks and Recreation Department staff review projects and work with landowners to help them develop and care for their property in ways that comply with State Scenic Waterway rules.
In rare cases where a compromise can't be found and the property owner receives a denial from the department, the current law allows the property owner to set aside the scenic waterway rule, after a 1-year waiting period.
The department's announcement came just hours before an Oregon Senate committee hearing on a bill introduced by Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, and passed unanimously by the House last month that seeks to prohibit any new bridges in a stretch of the Upper Deschutes Scenic Waterway-designated area.
Parks Department spokesman Chris Havel said the timing was coincidental.
"We said we wouldn't dally after getting the report, and we got it Friday last week," he told NewsChannel 21, adding that the report's "due date was set before the hearing was scheduled."
Havel also confirmed that "if any landowner applies for a project and their notification to us is denied, they can wait a year, then proceed (as long as some other requirement from a local, state, or federal authority permits them to.)."
Park district spokeswoman Julie Brown said, "This decision doesn't change anything today. It maintains the existing rule regarding the Scenic Waterway on this section of the Upper Deschutes River."
Brown said Executive Director Don Horton and Planning and Park Services Director Michelle Healy will testify at Wednesday's hearing, along with Park Board Chair Ted Schoenborn. The district and board are opposed to the legislation.
More information about the state scenic waterway system is online at http://www.oregon.gov/oprd/NATRES/scenicwaterways/Pages/index.aspx