SALEM — The state senator representing Bend says a proposed pedestrian bridge over the Deschutes River should be allowed if several conditions can be met.
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said the bridge just south of the city limits in the Deschutes National Forest would have to be built without condemnation of private property and only after an environmental impact study is done to ensure no negative impact.
A bill currently before the Senate would ban bridges in the that location.
“I will support a bridge on Forest Service property,” Knopp said. “I will likely seek an amendment to the bill to do that.”
Knopp’s statement comes as the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing at 3 p.m. Wednesday on the proposed legislation, House Bill 2027-A.
The bill passed the House unanimously on April 26 and was sent to the Senate. Since then, questions about who sought the ban and why have taken the bill off the fast track it received in the House.
“I don’t know what the bill’s chances are in the Senate,” Knopp said.
The large number of e-mails and phone calls he has received shows there is public interest “on both sides,” Knopp said, and the Senate would take a deeper look at the legislation.
Knopp is not on the Senate panel holding the public hearing, and amendments could be offered before the bill gets to the full Senate. But Knopp said the bill as written was likely not what he wanted to see come up for a vote of the full Senate. If necessary, he would offer the amendment himself. Knopp said he will visit the bridge site on Friday, along with former Bend Mayor Kathie Eckman, and would talk with local officials.
The bill gained little public attention on April 11 when it was redesignated with an “-A” at the end. This symbolized legislation that has been “engrossed” — amendments have changed the original purpose of the bill, a practice sometimes called a “gut and stuff.”
Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, introduced the amendment that stripped it of its original purpose as a water conservation bill and inserted the proposed ban on a bridge over the Deschutes River south of Bend. The House passed the bill 54-0, with six members absent, and it was sent to the Senate.
Whisnant said he had introduced the legislation because of constituent concerns that the Bend Park and Recreation District would use its eminent domain powers to build a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over what is classified as a scenic waterway. He cited the support for the amendment of the Upper Deschutes Conservation Council, which he said is a conservation group.
The lead proponent of the bill and the public spokesman for the council is Tim Phillips, a Bend homeowner who is CEO of a Portland wealth management company and frequent donor to Republican candidates. In 2016, Phillips gave $7,000 to Rep. Knute Buehler, who represents the House district that includes the Bachelor View subdivision where Phillips and his family live. Records show Whisnant and Knopp have not received money from Phillips.
Recently, Phillips has contributed to two candidates for the Bend Park and Recreation District board, which is on the ballot May 16. Laura Boehme received $3,000 worth of robocalls as an “in-kind” contribution from Phillips, according to a May 8 filing with the Secretary of State. In April, Phillips contributed $469.50. She is running for the seat held by Ted Shoenborn. Phillips also contributed $500 to Adam Bledsoe, according to a May 3 filing. Bledsoe is seeking the open seat previously held by Craig Chenoweth, who is not seeking re-election.
Phillips has declined to name any other members of the Upper Deschutes Conservation Council, which is not a registered nonprofit corporation like many environmental groups. He said he had hired a veteran Salem lobbyist, J.L. Wilson, to talk to members in the Legislature about supporting the bill.
The Bend Park and Recreation District opposes the legislation and says it pre-empts a state review of waterway rules that could make it easier to build the bridge, which would link urban Bend trails with trails leading into the Deschutes National Forest.
— Reporter 541-525-5280, firstname.lastname@example.org